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Zim in fresh row with EU

Dumisani Muleya

ZIMBABWE is engulfed in a fresh row with the European Union (EU) after a damaging dispute over President Robert Mugabe last week threatened to split the Commonwealth into

two camps.

That dispute was resolved by a Nigerian decision to block Mugabe’s attendance at December’s summit of Commonwealth heads of government.

But now, Britain’s Conservative Party is campaigning to force the EU to ban Zimbabwe from attending the EU/African Caribbean Pacific meeting scheduled to take place in Rome from October 11-15.

The Tories this week demanded that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw take measures to bar Harare from attending the meeting as the Commonwealth did last week.

Commonwealth foreign ministers yesterday held a meeting in New York chaired by Australian Foreign minister Alexander Downer at which the Zimbabwe issue was expected to be discussed. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group of the Harare Declaration will also hold a meeting tomorrow to work on a report on Zimbabwe ahead of the organisation’s summit in Abuja. The New York gathering will be chaired by Botswana Foreign minister Mompati Merafhe.

Zimbabwe stands accused of breaching Commonwealth principles on democracy, human rights and elections enshrined in the Harare Declaration and ancillary statements.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, said this week that “quiet diplomacy” was the best way to resolve the Zimbabwe issue.

In Britain, Conservative Party foreign affairs spokesman, Michael Ancram, said on Wednesday he had been told by his Zimbabwean sources that Mugabe was determined to attend a meeting with fellow African leaders organised by the EU’s Italian presidency in Rome.

Ancram said he had already written to Straw urging him “to ensure that the EU never again rolls out the red carpet for Mugabe”. But the British Foreign Office said Mugabe personally would not attend the meeting since it was not for heads of state.

“African ministers are already vowing to resist fresh attempts by the EU to bar Zimbabwe from attending Rome … Why have we heard nothing from the British government in response to this?” Ancram asked Straw.

“Last week you were rightly criticised for failing to condemn the attack by Mugabe on Zimbabwe’s free press. I hope that the meeting in Rome is not another instance where you will only speak up in the face of severe criticism from the British media.”

Straw was heavily criticised for his muted protests against the recent closure of the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, publishers of the Daily News and Daily News on Sunday.

“We were all appalled at the sickening sight of Mugabe shaking hands with Jacques Chirac in Paris earlier this year. Britain must use its influence to ensure that the EU never again rolls out the red carpet for Mugabe,” Ancram said.

“You must take immediate action to make clear that no member of his regime will be welcome in Rome next month.”

Despite an EU travel ban, Mugabe visited Paris in February for the Franco-African summit amid a storm of international protests. He left yesterday for the UN General Assembly where he is expected to attack his critics.

The conflict over Zimbabwe resulted in the EU shifting its meeting with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) leaders last November from Copenhagen to Maputo. An EU/Africa summit that was scheduled for April in Lisbon had to be postponed indefinitely due to a storm over Zimbabwe’s participation.

Meanwhile, reports that Mugabe could not obtain visas for a stopover for his party in Paris en route to New York, have been denied by the French Embassy in Harare.

The embassy said no applications had been received and Mugabe would probably be flying directly to New York.

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