EU to renew Zimbabwe sanctions

The European Union will agree this week to roll over sanctions imposed against Zimbabwe for a third year, 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 human-rights abuses and ballot fraud after he retained his grip on power in a controversial election victory.

Diplomats say that a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday will approve the decision, which will be formally adopted the next day at a meeting of EU interior ministers.

With no improvement to the situation on the ground, renewal of the sanctions is a formality, one diplomat said.

”It’s a question of adding a few more names to the list because of the recent government reshuffle in Zimbabwe,” he said.

”The numbers on the visa blacklist are now due to go up to 95, from 89 in the latest version of the old list,” he added.

Mugabe on February 9 conducted his first re-shuffle of a ”war cabinet” he appointed in August 2002, following his re-election in the controversial poll of March that year.

The EU visa ban imposes travel restrictions on top government and ruling party officials, as well as freezing their assets. The United States has imposed a similar ban. The EU has also imposed an embargo on supplies of arms and military equipment to Harare.

After the sanctions are renewed, EU foreign ministers are expected to agree a statement that will be highly critical of Mugabe’s regime at a meeting in Brussels next Monday, officials say.

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

”There are very serious concerns about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe,” Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen said last month.

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

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

But tensions between the EU and Harare were reflected this month 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 the 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 politically motivated violence; commitment to free and fair elections; protection of the freedom of the press; 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 another 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. – Sapa-AFP

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