Keep the squeeze on Mugabe, urges Minister

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The Independent Online

Sanctions must be maintained on Zimbabwe to "keep the squeeze" on President Robert Mugabe's inner circle despite the agreement to establish a national unity government with the country's opposition, Africa Minister Lord Malloch-Brown said today.

Lord Malloch-Brown was speaking from an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where some of the continent's leaders have called for sanctions to be lifted following Friday's agreement by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change to join the power-sharing administration with Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

The minister welcomed the deal, but said Mr Mugabe and those around him would have to show that they had genuinely adopted a new course before Britain would give up the use of "the stick" of targeted sanctions.

Lord Malloch-Brown told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "It is 'all in good time' as far as sanctions goes. We need to see real progress and results from this new government.

"What African leaders are understandably concerned about is that, with the tremendous humanitarian catastrophe in the country, people's needs are addressed. They don't want sanctions to get in the way of that.

"But there is a misunderstanding of what these sanctions are. They are aimed at the individuals - and the companies supporting these individuals - around Mr Mugabe. They are not aimed at the country of Zimbabwe or its people.

"To keep the squeeze on these people, to make sure they do really share power and perform properly in this new government, we need to keep this lever for a while."

Britain is already the second largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe and is expecting to put in more resources in response to the escalating crisis which has seen health centres and schools close and more than half the population dependent on food aid, said Lord Malloch-Brown.

But he warned that Friday's agreement marked only the beginning of a journey towards real reform, and said that previous signs of progress had led to disappointment.

"We need to see a serious team of economic ministers put in place with a serious economic reform programme and the credibility that this team will use the resources properly," he said.

"As that comes into place, we will find Britain and others being very generous donors. But we are sceptical about President Mugabe's role in this because we think that he has become a source of such distrust between himself and others in the government.

"The message I have got loud and clear from this summit - and I am sympathetic to it - is that we have got to give this a go, we have got to all do our best to support it, because the needs of the people of Zimbabwe are so overwhelming.

"But we are not going to put away our insurance policy of sanctions against the individuals around Mugabe until we have seen that Mr Mugabe and these individuals really are now making the real commitment to power-sharing.

"They have got no track record of that in the past. We hope this time it is different for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe. We will work as if it is different, but we won't completely put away our stick until we are convinced it is."