Mugabe denies scuttling unity progress

"If we could work with (Zimbabwe’s last white ruler) Ian Smith, how can we not work with Morgan Tsvangirai?" Mugabe was reported as telling a landmark European Union visit at the weekend.

"I am saying this because some people doubt ‘can this man work with the opposition?’. We have done it before and at a time when vengeful feelings were running high. It’s the issue once again but this time with our own people."

The 85-year-old leader on Saturday met the EU delegation in the first such visit to Harare in seven years which noted progress by the unity government but slammed reports of rights abuses and called for greater reforms.

The bloc also rejected calls for an end to sanctions imposed against Mugabe and his inner circle, which include a travel ban and a freeze on bank accounts.

Mugabe told the EU delegation that neither he nor his ZANU-PF party were derailing the unity pact – penned a year ago Tuesday – and that no outstanding issues remained, officials at the meetings told the Herald newspaper.

The unity government was formed in February but the two leaders remain deadlocked over key posts, while Tsvangarai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has accused Mugabe’s side of persecution.

Mugabe told the EU that the only issue that could be regarded as outstanding was the swearing in of MDC deputy agriculture minister Roy Bennett who was arrested for treason on the day that the new cabinet was sworn in.

"We have simply said if he is cleared (by the courts) he will be appointed the next day but if he is not, tough luck," Mugabe said.

Delays in drawing up a new constitution were blamed on the MDC, with Mugabe also saying that Gideon Gono, whose continued governorship of the central bank is bitterly disputed by the MDC, should serve out his five-year term.

Mugabe also told the EU to regard Zimbabwe as an independent nation and to listen to regional blocs, the Herald reported.

"We don’t regard it right for others to ask how we govern ourselves," he said. "The EU should not behave as if we belong to their community, we don’t!" – AFP