, HARARE, Sep 13 – The European Union said Saturday it wanted Zimbabwe’s unity government to succeed, but sought further reforms from President Robert Mugabe during a first meeting with him in seven years.
"We want this government of national unity to be a success," EU aid commissioner Karel de Gucht told reporters after the talks.
"I think we should acknowledge that there is progress being made here but there are still several problems outstanding and we discussed those with the president in a very open atmosphere," he added.
An EU delegation held separate talks with Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who formed a unity government in February in a bid to curb political violence and halt the nation’s economic freefall.
After lashing out at "bloody whites" for meddling in his country’s affairs Friday, a jovial Mugabe welcomed the delegation with "open arms" saying his problem was with Britain and not the West at large.
"It (the meeting) went well. They were asking questions about the GPA and they thought it is not working, yet everything we were asked to do under the GPA we have done and timeously even," said Mugabe, referring to the power sharing deal or Global Political Agreement.
"We established good rapport, no animosity, it was quite a friendly meeting."
Mugabe expressed his disappointment at EU travel restrictions and asset freezes against himself and his key allies, which he often blames for his country’s woes.
"I was always disappointed that sanctions have been imposed upon the government. Sanctions are serving no humanitarian purpose, they are causing lots of suffering among the people right at the bottom."
Despite a call by the Southern African Development Community for the penalties to be dropped, the EU maintains that mismanagement and a poor human rights record — rather than sanctions — are behind the country’s problems.
The EU did not discuss sanctions during the talks with Mugabe, though the issue did come up in talks with Tsvangirai, held later in the day in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo.
Tsvangirai said the sanctions would form part of a recently launched dialogue process with the EU, but said Zimbabwe still needed to commit to great political reforms.
"There are issues of reforms, such as constitutional reforms… the issue of media, that are necessary," Tsvangirai said.
Swedish Development Minister Gunilla Carlsson said the talks focused on ensuring that the power-sharing deal was properly implemented, including guarantees of political and media freedom.
"The implementation must be conducted in a good way. We have discussed accusations of human rights violations, the need for free media and some other things," she said.
The talks came on the eve of a major rally by Tsvangirai to mark the 10th anniversary of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is expected to draw thousands of people in Bulawayo, a key party power base.
The EU is looking to normalise ties with Zimbabwe and is seeking proof that Mugabe is committed to making the necessary reforms in his country.
A year after Mugabe and Tsvangirai inked the unity accord, power struggles over key posts and claims of continued persecution of Tsvangirai’s supporters have made Western states reluctant to provide direct aid.
The unity government, formed after disputed polls pushed Zimbabwe into a deep political and economic crisis, is struggling to rebuild the hyperinflation-ravaged economy and basic services that collapsed under Mugabe’s three decades of rule.
The 85-year-old Mugabe told reporters after the meeting that his problem was with the British government.
"Those who died, died of illness, conditions having deteriorated, it is those who have caused those conditions to deteriorate who must bear the blame. I think the British first and foremost." he said.
"I am a person the British don’t like."
The EU and the United States imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle following a disputed presidential poll in 2002, which Western nations as well as independent local poll monitors described as flawed.