New EU ambassador sceptical on lifting sanctions on Robert Mugabe's mob

In an interview with the German Press Agency dpa in Harare Aldo Dell’Ariccia said that, while there had been some democratic reforms since a power-sharing government was established in 2009, Zimbabwe still did not have press freedom.

‘I have been in the country for a short period to assess that there is respect for human rights and democracy,’ Dell’Ariccia admitted.

Yet, he had already concluded there was ‘much scope for improvement’ before Zimbabwe could boast a free press, he said, singling out the ‘monopoly’ (by President Robert Mugabe’s party) of radio and television as a blight on the media scene.

The EU was also concerned about a recent outbreak of political violence during public hearings on a new draft constitution.

A supporter of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) died and 11 other people were injured in September when supporters of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party tried to break up meetings about the draft charter.

‘The incidences of violence which happened during the constitution-making is an area of concern. Political violence is not a good signal,’ Dell’Arricia said, adding it was one of the elements that would be considered when deciding whether to maintain the sanctions.

In 2002, after an election marred by violence, the EU and US imposed targeted sanctions on Mugabe and dozens of members of his inner circle in the form of asset freezes and travel bans.

The EU is due to review the sanctions next February.

Some observers have suggested the measures should be eased in return for guarantees from Mugabe that the next elections will be free and fair.

Mugabe has been pushing for elections to replace the coalition government he formed with Tsvangirai to be held by middle of next year.

Last week, the head of the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission told dpa his organization did not have the resources to organize credible polls.

Dell’Ariccia said the EU was ready to help the ZEC, by providing technical and financial support as well as sending EU monitors.

EU monitors have been barred from observing elections since 2002, when the head of the EU monitoring team was expelled from Zimbabwe, resulting in Brussels withdrawing its 30 observers.

Dell’Ariccia warned the EU would not endorse any election outcome in Zimbabwe if it were not allowed observe the vote.

‘The European Union will only be in a position to express an opinion on an election only if we have been present there,’ he said.