Gordon Brown: 'It is right that I make clear my position. We will not shirk our responsibilities'

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Reports this week from Zimbabwe have graphically illustrated the appalling and tragic situation in which the people of Zimbabwe now find themselves.

The facts are stark: four million people have fled the country; 80 per cent of the population are unemployed; four million will be on food aid by the end of the year; and average life expectancy has fallen to just 37.

There is no easy solution to end this suffering. But I am determined that Britain continues to do everything it can to help the Zimbabwean people.

We are currently the second largest donor in Zimbabwe, providing up to £40m a year in humanitarian assistance and for HIV and Aids care in support of the most vulnerable. In addition, the British Government is announcing today an additional £8m for Zimbabwe this year, to be delivered through the World Food Programme.

But this alone will not be enough. And working with our international partners we must do more to press the Zimbabwean government to change.

We will ensure that the EU maintains sanctions against the 131 individuals in the ruling elite, including President Mugabe, who have committed human rights abuses – and extend sanctions to other individuals where necessary. We will suggest to EU partners the appointment of an EU envoy to help support the transition to democracy. We will press the UN Security Council to review more regularly the situation on the ground, and to dispatch a humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe.

We also need to support the important efforts of presidents Kikwete [Tanzania] and Mbeki [South Africa] to negotiate a return to democracy.

We need to be ready for the day democracy returns to Zimbabwe. We are working with African and international partners to prepare a long-term recovery package for when conditions exist to allow economic reconstruction to begin. This will include measures to help Zimbabwe restart and stabilise its economy, restructure and reduce its debt, help skilled people who have left the country return home, renovate schools and hospitals, and very importantly support fair land reform. And Britain is ready to contribute our share to this endeavour.

It is also right that I make clear my position on the forthcoming EU-Africa Summit. I want this summit – under the leadership of [Portugal's] Prime Minister Socrates – to be a real success. It is a serious opportunity to forge a stronger partnership between the EU and Africa in order to fight poverty, tackle climate change, and agree new initiatives on education, health and peacekeeping.

President Mugabe is the only African leader to face an EU travel ban. There is a reason for this – the abuse of his own people. There is no freedom in Zimbabwe: no freedom of association; no freedom of the press. And there is widespread torture and mass intimidation of the political opposition.

President Mugabe's attendance would mean lifting the EU visa ban that we have collectively imposed. I believe that President Mugabe's presence would undermine the summit, diverting attention from the important issues that need to be resolved. In those circumstances, my attendance would not be appropriate.

Britain will not shirk our responsibilities to the people of Zimbabwe and I am determined that we do all we can to help them forge a better future for themselves and their children.

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