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 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 18:38 GMT
EU disarray over Mugabe sanctions
Robert Mugabe
Mugabe is banned from travelling to EU countries
European Union foreign ministers have failed to decide on a new package of sanctions against the government of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe at a meeting in Brussels.

There is not a final agreement

George Papandreou
Greek foreign minister
The EU's Greek Presidency said the matter had been referred on to EU ambassadors in order to try to reach consensus.

The measures currently in force include a travel ban on senior government figures, but France has invited Mr Mugabe to a Franco-African summit in Paris next month, angering several countries.

France argues that EU sanctions against Zimbabwe allow officials to attend meetings in Europe if the focus is on human rights and democracy.

England cricketers on Monday said for the first time they did not want to play a World Cup match in Zimbabwe, after some players received letters threatening violence.

Citing safety and security concerns, the England team told reporters it had asked for the 13 February match to be played in South Africa.

It would be very hard to conceive of Tony Blair sitting down with Mugabe

British diplomat
Within Europe, there is a split over whether Mr Mugabe should be allowed to travel to Paris.

The UK and a number of other countries - including Sweden and the Netherlands - want to keep Mr Mugabe out.

The EU travel ban, along with a freeze on Mr Mugabe's assets, was imposed last February as violence flared in the run-up to a presidential election which was later widely condemned as unfair.

Compromise?

Supporters of sanctions fear that if the Zimbabwean leader is prevented from travelling to Paris, France will allow the entire sanctions regime to lapse.

Diplomats suggest that the sanctions regime will be re-imposed but an exception will be granted to allow Mr Mugabe to circumvent the ban to allow him to attend the meeting in Paris.
Voters wait in line outside a polling station last year
There were grave concerns about last year's elections

Sanctions are due to expire on 18 February - just one day before the Franco-African summit begins.

France argues other African nations would boycott the gathering if Mr Mugabe is not invited.

There were already concerns about Mr Mugabe attending an EU-Africa summit in April before the latest dilemma arose.

This had led to some EU members seeking a compromise that would have seen Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge attend the summit in Lisbon in his place - although the minister would also need a travel waiver.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said the search would continue.

"We will try to get a consensus... if not we may not have a summit," he said.

An unnamed British diplomat told AFP news agency: "It would be very hard to conceive of [UK Prime Minister Tony] Blair sitting down with Mugabe."

Confiscated

In Zimbabwe itself, police have been questioning five foreigners on suspicion of being journalists who entered the country under false pretences.

The five - from Finland, Germany, Kenya and the US - say they are church workers reporting on development projects for church magazines.

Under tough new media laws Zimbabwe introduced last year, journalists working without permission can be jailed for up to two years.

Correspondents say, however, that in-house publications such as church magazines are exempt.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Janet Barrie
"The issue of Europe's sanctions is still completely in the air"
  Tim Franks reports from Brussels
"Zimbabwe continues to tie diplomatic knots"
 VOTE RESULTS
Should Mugabe be allowed to travel to Europe?

Yes
 20.92% 

No
 79.08% 

16610 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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See also:

27 Jan 03 | World Cup
24 Jan 03 | Africa
06 Mar 01 | Africa
14 Jan 03 | Cricket
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