UK wants more reforms in Zimbabwe for expanding aid

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain wants to see more reforms in Zimbabwe before it can consider large-scale aid for the shattered country, British officials said on Thursday.

Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti held talks in London on Thursday with Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Africa Minister Mark Malloch-Brown — the first official meetings in nine years between ministers from the two countries.

The British ministers told Biti that "not only the UK but the international community as a whole needs to see significant further progress" in implementing a power-sharing agreement, a senior British official said.

Malloch-Brown told Biti that Britain would like to see a "road map" setting out actions and target dates for implementing a power-sharing agreement between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, the official said.

"A road map of some sort … would be a useful means of continuing to give the international community confidence in the momentum behind the change that’s going on," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

Zimbabwe’s new unity government has appealed for international help to rebuild the economy after a decade of economic contraction, hyperinflation and chronic shortages of basic goods. It says it needs about $8.3 billion for the task.

However, a second senior British official said it was too early for Britain to give extensive development aid.

"We cannot at this stage simply go straight into general budget support or some broader development relationship with Zimbabwe because too much of Zimbabwe is still broken," the official said. 

"What we need is for Zimbabwe to move in the direction of the principles that we have already set down," he said. These included goals on macroeconomic stability, human rights, rule of law, democratisation and free elections.

HUMANITARIAN AID

But he said Britain was helping Zimbabwe now by announcing 15 million pounds in humanitarian aid last week in addition to the 49 million pounds it gave last year.

Biti, a member of Tsvangirai’s party, heard a similar message when he met senior U.S. diplomats in Washington last Friday. The State Department said it wanted to see progress on reforms before deciding whether to provide significant aid.

Biti confirmed in an interview with Reuters on Thursday his country was receiving $400 million in credit lines from African states to revive its industry.

Tsvangirai formed a coalition government with Mugabe in February after months of dispute over a power-sharing deal. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.

The British official said an "ethnic cleansing revenge agenda" in Harare was partly to blame for continuing seizures of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe.

White farmers have accused Mugabe’s allies of leading a fresh wave of farm invasions this month.

Only around 400 private farms remain untouched, down from 4,000 nine years ago, the British official said. "Of those 400 at least 100 are under siege at the moment, possibly more," he said.