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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 17:48 GMT
Zimbabwe faces sanctions threat
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe: Invited observers but excluded Britain
The European Union has said it will impose targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe if its government fails to ensure the deployment of an EU team of observers for presidential elections within a week.

The decision came as President Robert Mugabe invited international observers, which include the EU - to the 9-10 March elections in March.


Comrade Mugabe said Britain would not be included in both the EU and the Commonwealth team

Zimbabwe state TV report
But he specifically ruled out any observers from Britain - the former colonial power.

And he did not say when the observers would be allowed in or what access they would be granted.

Several EU members were said to be reluctant to impose immediate sanctions, such as the freezing of assets abroad, arguing that it would give Mr Mugabe's government an excuse to exclude monitors.

Instead the EU has given Zimbabwe until 3 February.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who has been pressing his EU colleagues for sanctions, said before Monday's meeting that it was time to put President Mugabe "on the spot" amid mounting violence ahead of the election.

"The tragedy unfolding in Zimbabwe is driven by one man's ruthless campaign to hang on to power whatever the cost," Mr Straw told the Guardian newspaper.


We believe it is time to focus President Mugabe's mind more sharply on the consequences of his repression

UK Government spokesman
In a letter sent to Brussels a week ago, Zimbabwe committed itself to inviting observers.

And Mr Mugabe was quoted as saying at a meeting on Monday with state media reporters that Nigeria and the South African Development Community could send observers immediately.

Observers from the Commonwealth, the EU - excluding Britain - and other regional and international organisations could go at a later, unspecified date, he said.

'Disgrace'

Over the past few days the British Government has backed away from the idea of trying to get EU sanctions imposed at once.

War veterans on a farm in Zimbabwe
Mugabe faces criticism for the occupation of white-owned farms
But Mr Straw said on Sunday that Mr Mugabe's actions had sullied the reputation of the whole of southern Africa.

"Clearly what has been happening in Zimbabwe is totally unacceptable," he said.

"And I think the word the Prime Minister [Tony Blair] used last Wednesday was that Mugabe's actions were a disgrace to his own country."

EU foreign ministers debated cutting aid to the troubled country and a travel ban Zimbabwean governmental figures.

The EU has repeatedly urged Mr Mugabe to end political violence.

It wants him to organise fair presidential elections, ensure freedom of the press and to end the continued illegal occupations of white-owned farms by so-called war veterans.

It is also concerned about new proposed legislation that would severely censor the country's media and restrict foreign reporting in the country.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group could decide to recommend Zimbabwe's suspension when it meets on Wednesday.

But BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason says a full decision cannot be made until the Commonwealth heads of state summit at the beginning of March.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
George Shire, Zimbabwean writer
"I think that upping the stakes in this way makes the situation worse"
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"If there is no compliance the sanctions should operate"
See also:

29 Jan 02 | Africa
Analysis: Crunch time for Mugabe
28 Jan 02 | UK Politics
UK's patchy sanctions record
23 Jan 02 | Africa
Food aid arrives in Zimbabwe
21 Jan 02 | Africa
Africa turns on Mugabe
10 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Zimbabwe
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