Britain and the EU are preparing to lift sanctions on Robert Mugabe and his closest henchmen in an effort to persuade the Zimbabwean President into holding free and fair elections.A review of the measures that have banned the 88-year old Mr Mugabe, his military allies and key officials, from travel to Europe and froze suspect bank accounts will conclude that sanctions should now be conditionally suspended.
The sanctions were imposed in 2002 after Mr Mugabe oversaw a murderous campaign to drive out white farmers that pushed the economy into a disastrous slump.
European officials have told the Daily Telegraph there is now agreement to bring Zimbabwe back in from the cold but only if new conditions are met.
These include the publication of a new constitution, the adoption of human rights laws, a successful referendum and the conduct of free elections next year.
Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has been in fragile power sharing pact with Mugabe since 2009, has said a new constitution will be issued next week, a development that has paved the way for a meeting in Brussels next month where the sanctions deal will be signed off.
The officials said that the EU would present a unified position designed to encourage reforms that ensure President Mugabe and his Zanu PF ruling party cannot repeat the 2008 stolen election.
As the former colonial power, Britain’s objections to removing or suspending sanctions has ensured that there has only been a gradual easing of restrictions on Zanu PF despite the establishment of the coalition government.
Diplomats said that the British position remained key.
“We know that British interests and priorities are important here and cannot be overridden,” said one official. “We are working out a compromise that will see the EU use its influence positively while making the measures conditional. The Sword of Damocles must hang over Mugabe so that he cannot cling to power.”
Kate Hoey MP, the chairman of the All Party Zimbabwe group, said the government must not squander the UK leading role in maintaining President Mugabe’s isolation. But she acknowledged that the veteran leader, who was stripped of his honorary knighthood in 2006, hankers after international rehabitation. At the funeral of Pope John Paul II Mr Mugabe took the rare opportunity of a visit to Europe to associate himself with world leaders and made a beeline to shake the hand of the Prince of Wales.
“We need to remember that the political progress made so far is almost entirely due to Mugabe hoping that by signing (a power-sharing agreement) he and his associates would be allowed to travel to Europe,” Miss Hoey said. “The important thing is to work skilfully to achieve incremental progress towards democracy and rebuilding Zimbabwe.”
Officials said that Britain had been influenced by calls from the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangiri, the prime minister, for the sanctions to be lifted, as well as criticism by Navi Pillay, the UN human rights commissioner. Miss Pilay said the stigma of sanctions was inflicting damage on the Zimbabwean economy.
A Foreign Office spokesman said that circumstances in Zimbabwe had changed since sanctions were put under review earlier this year.
“Since these measures were last reviewed in February we have heard a number of calls, including from the MDC-T and their partners in the Inclusive Government, for us to show flexibility in order to support the process of reform.” she said. “For us what matters is putting in place what’s needed for free and fair elections, in line with the requirements of the EU Measures, and meeting the key points of progress that are promised along the way.”
George Campbell-Johnston, who is one of the more than 3,000 Zimbabwean farmers forced off the land by Mr Mugabe’s policies, said the UK government had abandoned Zimbabwe’s victims by caving in without securing real change.
“Things may be changing for tourists but its not for others in Zimbabwe. What about the 20,000 locked up without justice,” he said. “Zimbabwe has the richest diamond mine in the world and yet one million people are starving.”
One of the targeted officials mocked the British position. Didymus Mutasa, Zanu PF’s secretary general, said the suspension of sanctions would make little difference to his colleagues.
“I was on the list and my wife was on the list. It makes no difference to me whatsoever,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “I won’t be going to London, it’s very cold and the people are very unfriendly – I would rather stay here.”
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