EU suspends travel ban on Mugabe henchmen

‘This was a temporary visa waiver. It was a decision made after a consultation of all EU partners (in Zimbabwe) and Brussels,’ said Stephane Toulet, the deputy French ambassador to Zimbabwe.

‘The decision is meant to promote human rights and good governance in Zimbabwe and to re-engage Zimbabwe with the EU,’ said Toulet, whose country is processing the visas in the absence of a Belgian diplomatic mission in Harare.

In 2002, the EU slapped Mugabe and dozens of his cronies with targeted sanctions, including travel bans, to protest over human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Patrick Chinamasa and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Zimbabwe’s ministers of justice and foreign affairs respectively, are on the sanctions list.

The EU had initially declined to give the men visas to join former opposition leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at talks this week in Brussels with EU officials. Ministers from Tsvangirai’s MDC and a breakaway faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara are also slated to take part.

On Tuesday, Mugabe had warned he would call off the mission unless the visa ban on his ministers was waived. A minister from Mutambara’s MDC had also vowed to boycott the trip unless his Zanu-PF opposite numbers were included.

The MDC’s number two, Tendai Biti, however ignored the threat and left for Belgium Tuesday.

The remaining ministers are expected in Brussels Thursday.

Tsvangirai is on a three-week long trip to United States and EU to try repair relations damaged during the past decade of Mugabe’s autocratic rule and secure aid towards rebuilding Zimbabwe’s battered economy.