Mugabe welcomes EU team to Harare for 'fruitful talks'

Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe on Saturday welcomed a European Union team of government ministers and senior officials to explore the prospects for the country’s gradual international rehabilitation after years of isolation, sanctions and blacklists.

“We welcome you with open arms,” Mugabe said. “We hope our talks will be fruitful with a positive outcome,” Reuters reported.

The Swedish and Spanish development ministers and the European Commission’s top aid official, Karel De Gucht, are to push Mugabe to come good on his pledges to Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister and former opposition leader, under the power-sharing national unity pact that was struck last February.

The sensitive EU mission, which Sweden, the current EU president, had sought to keep under wraps, is the most senior to go to Harare since sanctions were slapped on the Mugabe regime seven years ago. It follows demands on Tuesday from Southern African leaders for all international sanctions on Zimbabwe to be lifted.

EU officials stressed that it was too early to talk of lifting penalties.
The British government, the harshest EU critic of Mugabe, is believed to support the Swedish-led attempt to gauge the scope for better relations, but would not yet back a relaxation of the sanctions.

The EU delegation is expected to hold talks with Mugabe, Tsvangirai and deputy prime minister Arthur Mutumbara.

Zimbabwe is seeking $10-billion in foreign reconstruction aid, but Western nations are reluctant to release cash without further political and economic reform. -

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