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Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 14:27 GMT
EU backs French invitation to Mugabe
Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace
Mugabe will now attend the summit
The European Union has renewed its sanctions against Zimbabwe for a further 12 months, but will allow President Robert Mugabe to travel to a summit in Paris next week.

I find it extraordinary that EU ambassadors have had to spend time finding a way of allowing avoidance of their own sanctions

Geoffrey van Orden
UK Conservative Party spokesman
At a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, diplomats agreed to a temporary "opt-out" for France, which is hosting a meeting of Franco-African leaders on human rights.

The current measures include a ban on President Robert Mugabe and 71 of his officials travelling to Europe, because of concerns about political repression and human rights abuses.

The Commonwealth looks set, however, to end its suspension of Zimbabwe after Nigeria and South Africa argued that the situation had improved in the past 12 months.

Nigeria, South Africa and Australia were charged with monitoring events in Zimbabwe on behalf of the grouping of former British colonies.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has written to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, saying that Mr Mugabe's controversial land redistribution programme is now proceeding normally.

Both sets of sanctions were imposed a year ago, around the time of the presidential elections.

Mr Mugabe was accused of using violence and fraud to ensure his re-election.

Constructive engagement

France had opposed extending the travel ban, and African countries had warned they would not go to Paris without Mr Mugabe.

France believes it is better to engage Mr Mugabe in dialogue, but several other EU members, including the UK, say he should not be allowed into Europe at all.

ZIMBABWE SANCTIONS
US travel ban, asset freeze
EU travel ban, asset freeze
Commonwealth - suspended, until March

Geoffrey van Orden, human rights spokesman in the European parliament for the UK Conservative Party condemned the decision in view of the current trial of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

"I find it extraordinary that, at the very moment when yet another Zimbabwe opposition MP has been arrested and the opposition leader is on trial facing the most dubious of treason charges, EU ambassadors have had to spend time finding a way of allowing avoidance of their own sanctions," he said.

A meeting between EU leaders and members of the African-Caribbean-Pacific group due to take place in Lisbon has also been threatened by the same arguments.

Diplomats say that this summit is likely to be postponed.

The 72 Zimbabwean leaders have also had any assets in the EU frozen.

The MDC has condemned Nigeria and South Africa for opposing renewed Commonwealth sanctions.

"This letter [Obasanjo's] speaks the language of Zanu-PF," said MDC foreign secretary Moses Mzila Ndlovu, referring to Zimbabwe's ruling party.

He pointed to the arrests of journalists and opposition lawmakers and the alleged partisan distribution of food aid among the hungry as reasons for keeping Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth.

The Australian prime minister is also opposed to readmitting Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth.

'Normal process'

After a recent visit to Harare, Mr Obasanjo wrote to John Howard that the land reform programme had been "acclaimed as remarkable".

'War veterans' outside a white-owned farm
Mugabe's supporters have been occupying farms

"It is now a matter of reality that the Fast-Track land resettlement programme, adopted by the Government of Zimbabwe... has substantially ended since August 31, 2002," he said.

"Since then the Land Reform Programme (LRP) has continued to be implemented in the normal regulatory process."

The Nigerian leader noted Mr Mugabe's promise to compensate white farmers who have lost their land but Colin Cloete, president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, said:

"No farmers have had their compensation yet."

He also told BBC News Online that illegal farm invasions were continuing.

Between 600 and 800 white farmers remained on their farms, out of some 4,000 two years ago, he said.


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10 Feb 03 | Business
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