/ 29 November 2007

Mugabe ready for dialogue with Britain

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, caught in a standoff with Britain which has cast a shadow over an European Union (EU)-Africa summit, said on Wednesday he had no objection to dialogue between the two countries.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will boycott the December 8 to 9 Lisbon summit because Mugabe, who has clashed with Britain and other Western governments over charges of rights abuses and controversial policies, will attend.

”We have never ever objected to any dialogue with the British, because if we don’t talk, how do they want us to resolve this situation if there is no dialogue. Of course we will talk,” Mugabe told reporters after meeting Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

Wade, critical of South Africa’s efforts to end the political crisis in Zimbabwe, said earlier he wanted to create a group of African leaders to resolve the impasse between Harare and its former colonial ruler.

”I am going to propose the creation of a committee of five heads of state, which will include [South African President] Thabo Mbeki of course, to try to resolve relations between England and Zimbabwe,” said Wade, whose visit to Harare follows one by Mbeki last week.

”I am a facilitator … Nobody has sent me here. It is a personal initiative. I know that Thabo Mbeki has done a lot but the situation has not so far been resolved,” added Wade, who has sparred with Mbeki for leadership on continental issues.

In Dakar, the Senegal-based Pan-African Human Rights Group RADDHO criticised Wade for flying off to Zimbabwe while so many social and economic problems are unresolved in his own country.

”Wade has absolutely no business involving himself in this mediation. He’s going to make a fool of himself. Because no one is better placed than Mbeki and he hasn’t been able to manage it,” RADDHO secretary general Alioune Tine told a news conference in the Senegalese capital.

Southern African states have mandated Mbeki to secure a deal on constitutional reform between Mugabe and Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due in March.

Mbeki said after meeting Zimbabwe’s political parties last Thursday that he was ”very confident” that mediation efforts would produce a solution to the country’s crisis.

Western diplomats and South Africa’s opposition say Mbeki is too soft on Mugabe. Mbeki says quiet diplomacy has the best chance of ending Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis.

Previous EU-Africa efforts to meet have foundered over whether to invite Mugabe, reviled by the West but seen by Africa as an independence hero.

An EU source said on Tuesday Portugal would formally notify member states this week that it would waive an EU visa ban to enable Mugabe and his senior aides to travel to the summit.