Clinton commends Zimbabwe progress, urges more

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commended Zimbabwe's unity government on Saturday for progress in implementing reforms but said more must be done.\r\n

In a message to the Zimbabwean people, timed to coincide with the country’s 29th anniversary of independence from Britain, Clinton made no mention of when or whether the United States would lift targeted sanctions or offer substantial aid to help rebuild the shattered nation.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "The United States encourages the government to continue those important steps as it works for a more promising future for Zimbabwe," she said.

Zimbabwe’s economy is in ruins with hyperinflation and unemployment at around 90 percent. Millions are in need of food aid and the country’s infrastructure and institutions in shambles.

On Friday, U.S. officials told Reuters there were no immediate plans to lift targeted U.S. sanctions or give major aid until there was firm evidence that President Robert Mugabe was serious about sharing power with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The two formed a unity government in February following bitter post-election feuding and a clampdown by Mugabe’s forces against the opposition.

Mugabe has blamed his country’s economic collapse on Western sanctions but the United States and others counter that the cause of financial decline was his own mismanagement and authoritarian rule.  

U.S. targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe include financial and visa restrictions against selected individuals tied to Mugabe, a ban on transfers of military items and a suspension of non-humanitarian aid.

Western donors and foreign investors want to see political and economic reforms, such as reversing nationalization plans, before pumping in large amounts of cash to Zimbabwe.

The United States is a key humanitarian aid donor to Zimbabwe and Clinton pledged continued U.S. help.

"The United States has long stood with the people of Zimbabwe in their times of need and will continue to do so," she said in her statement.

On April 8, the United States canceled an advisory warning Americans against travel to Zimbabwe, saying conditions had improved on the ground but that the political situation still remained very "fluid."

Zimbabwe’s new finance minister is expected to attend meetings in Washington next week of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The World Bank said on Thursday it was willing to help Zimbabwe recover from its economic crisis but it was critical for the country’s institutions to restore democracy and human rights.