EU team seeks restored cooperation with Zimbabwe

BRUSSELS – A top-level Europe Union delegation will visit Zimbabwe on Sept. 12-13 for meetings with government leaders, the first such talks in seven years, in a bid to restore aid and cooperation with the African state.\r\n

The visit by EU Aid and Development Commissioner Karel De Gucht and the Swedish EU presidency is the first since the European Union began targeted sanctions in 2002 against members of President Robert Mugabe’s regime for human rights violations.

The delegation is expected to hold talks with all parties including Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutumbara, the EU’s executive European Commission said in a statement.

The visit follows a call by southern African heads of state to the international community to end sanctions on the impoverished country, which is buckling under the strain of a near economic meltdown and a disease outbreak.

But an EU official said the mission was intended to relaunch political dialogue and engagement between the 27-country bloc and Zimbabwe, not to lift the sanctions immediately.

"The joint EU mission aims to underline the urgent need for Zimbabwe’s unity government to fully implement the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in order for the EU to fully re-engage and restore its cooperation," the Commission statement said.

URGENT NEED

Mugabe and long-time foe Tsvangirai formed a power-sharing government in February as part of the so-called GPA, backed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to end a political crisis that followed disputed polls last year.

But the accord has been beset with problems as the parties accuse each other of stalling the process by not fully implementing the agreement.

Tsvangirai’s MDC party has accused Mugabe of refusing to reverse a series of key political appointments while Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, in turn, has accused the prime minister of not doing enough to push Western governments to lift sanctions.

"There is an urgent need for all the parties to fulfil their obligations under the GPA. By doing this, the EU can once again fully re-engage with Zimbabwe and help the country on its return to normality," Commissioner De Gucht said in the statement.

Zimbabwe says it needs $10 billion in foreign reconstruction aid, but Western nations are reluctant to release cash without further political and economic reform.

The country stands to benefit from direct budgetary support from the EU’s European Development Fund if it re-establishes aid and development cooperation with the EU. Aid to Zimbabwe from the fund has been suspended since 2002.

The EU remains the main overall donor to Zimbabwe, having provided 572 million euros ($829 million) in humanitarian aid to the country since 2002, despite the targeted sanctions.

To date, 203 people and 40 companies linked to the Mugabe government face travel and some financial restrictions within the bloc. Reuters