Mugabe 'blocked EU plan for peace force'

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The Independent Online

President Robert Mugabe's regime has once again sabotaged attempts to mend relations between Europe and Africa by snubbing a high-level European Commission delegation at the African Union (AU) summit in Maputo.

The European Commission president, Romano Prodi, had arrived at the weekend summit intending to offer a European funding package worth €250m (£170m) for a standing African peace-keeping force, an AU initiative aimed at proving the virtue of "African solutions to African problems". But a despondent Mr Prodi admitted to The Independent that he had watered down the offer because "we face a wall in any contacts, and that wall is Zimbabwe".

Mr Prodi said his attempts to revive the biennial Europe-Africa summit, due to take place in Lisbon in April but cancelled because of EU resistance to inviting the Zimbabwean leader, had fallen flat.

Asked what it would take for the EU to consider inviting African leaders again - Mr Mugabe's resignation or mere conciliation talks between the Zimbabwean regime and the country's opposition - Mr Prodi said at the end of the summit: "Lots of ideas are flying around but at the moment we are getting nowhere. On the issue of money for the standing African force, we had a proposal, but for the moment we are just saying we will look at funding if and when a force is created."

The setback in AU-EU relations is a blow to Nepad, the New Partnership for African Development, which was backed by the G8 meeting in Evian last month. The AU is the body through which the Nepad development plan for Africa is supposed to be implemented.