Zim’s ‘pitiless oppression’ brings more sanctions

The European Union is set to agree this month to roll over for a third year sanctions imposed against Zimbabwe, notably extending a list of officials banned from the EU, diplomats say.

The sanctions were first slapped on the regime of President Robert Mugabe in 2002 for rights abuses and electoral fraud after he retained his grip on power in a controversial ballot victory.

The deadline to renew the sanctions is due on February 20. But diplomats say that a meeting of EU ambassadors next week will approve the decision, which will be formally adopted on February 19, at a meeting of EU interior ministers.

”The current sanctions will be maintained … The situation in our view is not improving,” said an EU source, adding: ”These measures are aimed at named individuals and not the people of Zimbabwe.”

The original ban imposed travel restrictions on top government and ruling party officials, as well as freezing their assets.

Initially in 2002, 19 people were listed. According to EU sources, that list will include up to 90 names this year.

As well as renewing the sanctions, EU foreign ministers are also expected to agree a statement on the situation in Zimbabwe at a meeting in Brussels on February 23, officials say. The EU has also imposed an embargo on supplies of arms and military equipment to Harare.

Ireland, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has dropped heavy hints in recent weeks about the way the sanctions review was going.

”There are very serious concerns about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe,” said Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen last month, while declining to forecast what the decision would be.

The EU measures against Zimbabwe were eased slightly last year when the bloc agreed to suspend the travel ban for officials travelling to meetings organised by the United Nations or by international bodies based in an EU country.

But tensions between the EU and Harare were reflected only last week when European diplomats were temporarily denied entry to some polling stations in Zimbabwe during a parliamentary by-election.

Zimbabwe’s international isolation grew last year when it was suspended from the Commonwealth after observers said presidential polls that returned Mugabe to power were marred by violence, intimidation and electoral flaws.

In reviewing the sanctions, the EU has been seeking progress in five key areas: an end to all political motivated violence; commitment to free and fair elections; protection of the freedom of mass media; independence of the judiciary; and an end to illegal occupation of properties.

”We have not been able to record progress in any of them,” said an EU diplomat. ”That is why we must maintain the sanctions.”

Meanwhile, the EU, the world’s biggest provider of development aid, has sought to target assistance to the Zimbabwean people in the form of medical supplies, food and agricultural aid, EU officials say.

But budgetary aid to the Mugabe government to carry out reforms remains suspended.

”We are going to cut off aid channelled through the government and focus on restricted aid targeted directly at the population,” said one source.

The European Parliament issued a stinging resolution on Zimbabwe only last month, saying that Mugabe’s regime has ”become a worrying example of pitiless oppression of an impoverished and famished population”. — Sapa-AFP

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