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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 13:06 GMT
Nigeria urges caution on Zimbabwe sanctions
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
President Obasanjo is a key player in the Zimbabwe debate
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By Barnaby Mason
BBC diplomatic correspondent

The Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has said the Commonwealth should impose sanctions on Zimbabwe only if it is proved that President Robert Mugabe has broken the rules of the club.

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Britain failed to persuade the Commonwealth to suspend Zimbabwe in January
President Obasanjo said that the Commonwealth was a family that had laid down certain rules and, if anyone broke the rules, he would be sanctioned. But he said the matter had to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

He was speaking in the Australian capital, Canberra, after talks with the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, ahead of a meeting of Commonwealth leaders.

Mr Mugabe is accused of using intimidation and violence to secure his re-election as president in polls to be held in just over a week.


The question of what the Commonwealth should do about Zimbabwe will be the main focus of attention at the summit but agreement on its immediate suspension from the organisation is unlikely.

Robert Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe:
  • A former teacher, made his name as a fighter in Zimbabwe's war of independence
  • Resurrected the nationalist agenda of the 1970s - land redistribution and anti-colonialism
  • Critics accuse him of resorting to political violence to cling to power
    See also:
      Full profile
      Full election coverage

  • President Obasanjo is a key figure in the argument.

    The clear implication is that the Commonwealth should wait until after the Zimbabwean presidential election and act on the basis of the report of its own observer mission.

    The mission is led, as it happens, by a Nigerian.

    There is a disagreement on tactics between the Africans, among others, and some of the old, predominantly white Commonwealth countries, especially Britain and Australia.

    The host of the meeting, John Howard, now says the issue should be left to the summit but his government has talked of imposing sanctions anyway if the Zimbabwe opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is prevented from contesting the election.

    The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, described the bringing of treason charges against Mr Tsvangirai as an outrage and said Mr Mugabe was acting in an undemocratic and dictatorial way.

    But Britain failed in January to persuade a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to suspend Zimbabwe and the outcome looks like being the same when the group discusses the issue again later today.

    The summit is likely to give the ministers the power to act quickly if necessary after the election.

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    See also:

    27 Feb 02 | Africa
    Zimbabwe electoral law 'illegal'
    26 Feb 02 | Africa
    More Mugabe opponents charged
    26 Feb 02 | Africa
    Zimbabwe's treason tape saga
    24 Feb 02 | Africa
    Zimbabwe observers undaunted
    23 Feb 02 | Africa
    Mugabe banned from US travel
    25 Feb 02 | Africa
    Zimbabwe votes: Manicaland
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