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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 18:06 GMT
What to do with Mugabe
Mugabe voting in parliamentary elections in 2000
Mugabe may be home and dry before the world can act
By the BBC's world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's attitude to the outside world is summed up on a new website set up by his government -

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo
Information Minister Moyo says the UK fuels the violence
His Minister for Information and Publicity, Professor Jonathan Moyo, declares that the European Union and the Commonwealth should hold Britain responsible for any escalation of violence ahead of the presidential elections in March.

British policy, Mr Moyo says, is reminiscent of an equally "diabolic" strategy by Western intelligence groups which once worked with former Rhodesians - most of whom are now commercial farmers - to fuel disturbances.

With such a background, it is hardly likely that President Mugabe will be swayed by diplomatic representations and pressure.

Counterproductive censure

There will be repercussions for him internationally if he continues his present course, but he probably could not care less.

Indeed, such pressure will probably fuel his mistrust of outside influences and reinforce his determination to clamp down on any threat to his re-election.

Zimbabwe could have economic sanctions imposed on it by the European Union and be suspended by the Commonwealth.

The EU process takes some time - 60 days under the trade agreement with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

Against the clock

Under the agreement, ACP countries which violate human rights can have economic benefits withdrawn, but this process cannot now be finished before the elections. Mr Mugabe could be home and dry by the time sanctions are put in place.

Blair at CHOGM in Durban in 1999
Blair: Accused of "diabolic" policy
Zimbabwe faces the loss of 128m euros ($114m) and its trade access to the EU, but many European governments and aid organisations do not want to impose severe economic sanctions as they would hurt the poorest. So it is a sword which is two edged.

A confrontation on this will take place in Brussels on Friday between EU and Zimbabwe delegations.

The Commonwealth conference - CHOGM, or Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting - is being held in Australia in early March, just before the Zimbabwe elections, and in theory could suspend Zimbabwe.

It is unlikely that Mr Mugabe will attend in person. But a CHOGM decision requires consensus, which means unanimity, and this is by no means certain, though it could become more likely if the situation gets worse.

But again, Mr Mugabe might regard suspension as a badge of honour. He has long ago ceased to be worried about what the Commonwealth thinks.

How to act?

What to do about a country heading for dictatorship and repression is a very common dilemma in the modern world.

In the old days, people turned a blind eye under the principle of "non interference in internal affairs".

This has now changed, but governments are unsure as to how far to take the process.

On occasions, there is direct intervention (Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Afghanistan).

On others, there is UN action (Somalia), but at the end of the day, economic pressure and diplomatic isolation are usually all that can be used, and governments bent on power tend not to take much notice.

This appears to be the case with Zimbabwe.

The BBC's Barnaby Mason
"Criticising the President is a criminal offence"

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10 Jan 02 | Africa
08 Jan 02 | Africa
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05 Dec 01 | Africa
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