, BRUSSELS, Feb 19 – The European Union agreed Monday to lift some of its punishing sanctions against Zimbabwe as a reward for ongoing political reforms, but the move brought a furious response from President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
Zimbabwe has announced a referendum on a new constitution on March 16, a key reform ahead of an election in July to end a shaky power-sharing government between veteran leader Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe’s party dismissed Monday’s EU decision as “outrageous and preposterous”.
But Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) hailed the partial lifting of sanctions as a welcome gesture, saying Zimbabwe’s political leaders should end rights violations and restore relations with the EU bloc.
“We need to respect the rule of law, rights of citizens, the security of the vote and voter and stop harassing civic society activists,” said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa.
“We need to throw away the badge of pariah state and join the family of nations.”
As Zimbabwe prepares to vote on the constitution, EU foreign ministers agreed to end an assets freeze and visa ban against certain members of the regime.
“We have shown that by removing some sanctions we will reward reforms,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Welcoming political progress, the ministers said in a statement that the EU was immediately suspending a travel ban on six government members and removing 21 people out of 112, and one entity out of 11, from an EU blacklist.
Mugabe loyalists denounced the decision.
“ZANU-PF will never accept any conditional removal of the illegal sanction or any self-serving initiatives meant to advance the economic interests of Western nations,” party spokesman Rugare Gumbo said in a statement.
A tiff between Britain and Belgium had held up the EU deal after Belgium demanded that the ZMDC, a major diamond and gold mining company, be struck off the Zimbabwe sanctions list.
Hague told reporters after the talks that state-owned ZMDC, which NGOs and diplomats claim funds ZANU-PF, would be maintained under sanctions for the time being.
NGOs and diplomats said the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, which operates five diamond mines in the controversial Marange fields, was channelling money to the ZANU-PF.
Belgium said the company has been cleared of rights abuse fears and that ending restrictive measures against it would help revive Zimbabwe’s struggling economy while bringing its diamonds to the open market.
Meanwhile the EU ministers implied that some sanctions would remain in place until after elections scheduled next July.
It said a “peaceful and credible” referendum vote in March would be “an important milestone” justifying the immediate suspension “of the majority” of all remaining EU restrictive measures against individuals and entities.