Miliband cautious on Zimbabwe pact

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The Independent Online

The UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband today urged the new power-sharing government in Zimbabwe to end the country's economic and humanitarian plight.

After talks with fellow EU foreign ministers in Brussels he cautiously welcomed the pact between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai but warned the terms of their agreement on joint leadership had to be matched with action.

The EU meeting came as the two men sealed their power-sharing deal at a formal signing ceremony in Harare, bringing Mr Tsvangirai into government as Prime Minister and Mr Mugabe remaining president with reduced authority.

Mr Miliband said the UK Government welcomed "the prospect of a turn in the tide of suffering in Zimbabwe".

He went on: "Our overriding concern is with the people of Zimbabwe, who have suffered too long.

"We hope that this agreement will allow Zimbabwe to chart a new course towards economic recovery and political stability.

"What matters now is not just the words in the agreement, but the way it functions and the actions the new government takes on the ground. We hope that the new government will reverse the tragic policies and decline of recent years."

Mr Miliband said that if the new regime was able to start to rebuild the country, Britain and the rest of the international community would be quick to support them.

Earlier, the Prime Minister also said the UK stood ready to support the new administration depending on what practical actions were actually taken towards change.

Gordon Brown's spokesman said: "We congratulate President Mbeki on his efforts to broker a deal between Zanu-PF and the MDC, but we will need to study the detail.

"In principle we stand ready to support Zimbabwe's new administration to bring about much-needed change, but the extent and nature of our support will be determined by the actions the new administration takes on the ground."

Today, the EU foreign ministers made clear it was far too early to suspend existing EU sanctions against more than 100 members of the Mugabe regime, who are subject to travel bans in Europe and the freezing of any financial assets held in the EU.

But they pointedly did not proceed with plans to add more names to the sanctions list.

The EU has no formal relations with Zimbabwe but has supplied humanitarian aid. Officials say more formal trade and aid packages could be triggered if the new government arrangement restores stability and provides direct benefits to help the population.

The foreign ministers this afternoon also agreed to send a 200-strong EU monitoring mission to Georgia to oversee a pull-back of Russian troops, as agreed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in talks earlier this month.

Mr Miliband said the UK contribution would be about 20 observers.

Earlier Mr Miliband commented: "We are very committed to playing our full part in this important mission (to Georgia).

"There is great concern about Russian behaviour in the last four or five weeks, about territorial integrity and the way it has been violated."