Swiss stop Mugabe's wife travelling to UN meeting

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been forced to cancel a trip to Geneva for a United Nations meeting this week after his wife and some of his aides were denied visas.

The United States and the European Union imposed travel and financial sanctions on Mr Mugabe and senior officials of his ZANU-PF party almost a decade ago over charges of rights abuses and vote rigging.

But the sanctions, which Mr Mugabe argues are punishment for his seizure and redistribution of white-owned commercial farms to black Zimbabweans, have traditionally not been applied for UN meetings.

The Zimbabwe state-owned Herald newspaper reported yesterday that Mr Mugabe, 87, had scrapped a trip to Switzerland for an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) summit after his wife, Grace, Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, chief spokesman George Charamba and three other senior officials were refused travel permits.

Harare has lodged a protest with both the Swiss government and the UN, the Herald said. "This was a highly regrettable decision which was a clear violation of the United Nations headquarters' host agreement and Zimbabwe's sovereign right to determine the composition of its delegation," a Zimbabwe foreign affairs official was quoted as saying.

The Swiss embassy in Harare declined to comment on charges that Switzerland had adopted the EU's position on ZANU-PF although it is not a member of the bloc.

ZANU-PF has in the past threatened to target for seizure foreign-owned firms from countries supporting sanctions against Zimbabwe, and is now trying to force mining firms to transfer majority shareholdings to black Zimbabweans.