US ends Zimbabwe travel warning, sanctions stay

The United States has scrapped an advisory warning Americans against travel to Zimbabwe but this does not signal a shift in US policy toward the unity government, the State Department said on Friday.

US officials said there were no immediate plans to lift targeted sanctions or give any substantial aid to help rebuild Zimbabwe until there is firm evidence that President Robert Mugabe is serious about sharing power with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

”We can’t seriously decide to take decisions on aid or lifting sanctions until much, much more is done,” said a State Department official, who declined to be named as the issue is under review and his comments were sensitive.

State Department spokesperson Robert Wood told reporters the travel warning was cancelled on April 8 because of a return of ”basic” medical, food and fuel services to Zimbabwe, whose economy is in shambles and infrastructure in ruins.

”We’re obviously going to continue to monitor the situation. And if we feel we need to provide another travel advisory or warning, we’ll certainly do so,” Wood said, adding there was no ”political dynamic” to scrapping the warning.

The other State Department official said the decision to lift the warning, which was issued on December 8 last year, did not indicate a policy change towards Zimbabwe.

”Absolutely not,” said the official when asked if this represented a softening towards Harare, adding that there were still a lot of concerns about Americans travelling to Zimbabwe.

Current advice on the State Department’s website described a ”fluid” political situation in Zimbabwe and urged Americans to ”carefully evaluate” their decision to go there.

Zimbabwe was once the breadbasket of Southern Africa and has many tourist attractions, with sights such as the majestic Victoria Falls and animal reserves.

More must be done
The Obama administration is assessing the performance of the nascent unity government that brings together Mugabe and opposition leader Tsvangirai, who is prime minister.

The State Department official said there were some positive signs, particularly from Zimbabwe’s new finance minister, who is set to attend meetings in Washington next week of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

”The finance minister is making very commendable efforts and we want to support him,” the official said. ”But they take one step forward and then one step backwards,” he added of the government’s performance overall.

He said Washington had concerns, for example, about the head of the central bank, a Mugabe ally, and about the actions of the security forces.

Mugabe has blamed his country’s economic collapse on Western sanctions but the United States and others counter that the cause of hyperinflation and financial decline was his own mismanagement and authoritarian rule.

The targeted sanctions include financial and visa restrictions against selected individuals, a ban on transfers of military items and a suspension of non-humanitarian aid.

Western donors and foreign investors want to see political and economic reforms, such as reversing nationalisation plans, before pumping in large amounts of cash. – Reuters

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