, SYDNEY, Mar 11 – Australia said Monday it would lift sanctions on 55 prominent Zimbabweans in response to the announcement of a referendum on a new constitution ahead of July elections.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the group included members of the judiciary and media, provincial governors and leading business figures as well as a number of politicians from Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
“These individuals are not considered to be hindering democratic reforms or undermining the ultimate goal of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, nor are they thought to be involved in human rights abuses,” Carr said.
“I’m pleased to be able to lift these sanctions and look forward to further democratic reforms in Zimbabwe.”
It follows similar steps last month by the European Union and forms part of a phased roll-back of sanctions by Australia which will be extended once the referendum, due on March 16, is held in a “peaceful and credible” fashion.
Once a free and fair election is held and a democratically-elected government replaces the shaky coalition between veteran leader Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Carr said additional steps would be taken.
Any regressive developments, including derailing of the election process or a return to violence, would see sanctions ramped back up.
There are 98 individuals and four entities still facing travel and financial bans from Australia, as well as a general arms embargo and prohibition on military links.
Mugabe’s ZANU-PF denounced the lifting of EU sanctions as a “self-serving initiative meant to advance the economic interests of Western nations”.