Zimbabwe-EU re-engagement meeting threatened by ban on Mugabe henchman

Harare – The European Union's refusal to grant visas to ministers from Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's party to accompany Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to Brussels this week has deepened rifts in Harare's coalition government, it emerged Tuesday.

Tsvangirai is on a tour

of the United States and several European countries to try to repair relations damaged during the past decade of Mugabe’s autocratic rule and secure aid towards rebuilding Zimbabwe’s battered economy.

After meeting last week with US President Barack Obama, the former opposition leader, who took his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) into coalition with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in February, is continuing his trip in Europe this week.

On Wednesday, he and six members of his cabinet, two from each of the three parties in the coalition government, are scheduled to meet senior EU officials in Brussels for what is being called a re-engagement meeting.

Three ministers, from each of Zanu-PF, the MDC and a breakaway MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara, are accompanying him throughout the trip, with three more supposed to join the Brussels meeting.

From Zanu-PF, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa was due to attend, but the EU is refusing him entry because Chinamasa is one of the scores of Zanu-PF members and allies, including Mugabe, barred from travelling to the EU and US under targeted sanctions going back years.

Sources in Zimbabwe’s cabinet said Mugabe on Tuesday instructed that the trip should be aborted if Chinamasa was refused entry.

Industry Minister Welshman Ncube, a leading member of deputy prime minister Mutambara’s MDC faction, told the German Press Agency dpa he would not be attending unless the EU relented on his Zanu-PF cohort.

‘We are supposed to go tomorrow but it depends on whether the other members can get the visas.’

Refusing entry to Chinamasa would mean ‘no launch of reengagement (with the EU),’ Ncube warned.

But Finance Minister Tendai Biti from Tsvangirai’s party, the third minister awaited in Brussels, had disregarded Mugabe’s instruction and already left Tuesday to attend the meeting.

Because there is no Belgian embassy in Harare, the ministers had to apply to the French embassy for visas to visit Brussels. France and Belgium are part of the visa-free Schengen area, meaning a French visa covers travel to Brussels.

In a separate incident, Britain has refused to issue a visa for Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, also of Zanu-PF, who planned on attending a mining conference in the country this week.

The cabinet sources say Mugabe dispatched Mutambara to try to intervene with the British and French ambassadors in Harare on the issue.

Obama’s decision to exclude the one Zanu-PF minister in Tsvangirai’s delegation, Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi, from the Oval Office meeting last week already drew angry allegations from Mugabe-loyal state media of ‘overt bias.’