March 13, 2003

ZIMBABWE: ACP-EU row widens

African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries will undertake a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe that does not include the European Union (EU), in what analysts this week said signalled the widening of the ACP-EU rift over the southern African nation.

The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA) had initially resolved last year to send a mission to Zimbabwe prior to the JPA's next meeting, schedulled for March 31 to April 4 in Congo Brazzaville. JPA co-president Adrien Houngbedji was mandated to approach the Harare authorities to seek assurances that EU members of the joint assembly who were blacklisted by the Zimbabwean government in 2002 would be allowed to enter the country as part of the delegation. The Zimbabwean government last year imposed a travel ban against several EU officials in response to smart sanctions slapped by the 15-member economic bloc against President Robert Mugabe and his top hierarchy.

But ACP spokesman Hegel Goutier said the EU, which last month renewed sanctions against the Zimbabwean government for another year, had already taken a position on Zimbabwe and European parliamentarians might therefore compromise the findings of any mission to Zimbabwe. Goutier told the Financial Gazette from Brussels: "Normally, it should have been necessary to have the mission under the JPA but in this case, it is better for the ACP to send a delegation without the European Union. "We have communicated this to the Zimbabwean ambassador here and he said his government will propose a date for our visit." He added: "We know that the EU has a misunderstanding with Zimbabwe and it has made its position clear so we don't want them to influence our findings. We want to have an open discussion with the Zimbabwean government and gather as much information as possible about their problems. We can only reach a decision on Zimbabwe after we understand the problems the government is facing."

Although officials of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have warned against allowing Harare to influence the itinerary of the JPA fact-finding mission, Goutier said the ACP delegation would be guided by the government during its visit. He said the ACP was not keen on asking Harare to grant permission to banned EU officials to enter Zimbabwe, adding that the European bloc was imposing terms on its African, Caribbean and Pacific trade partners. "We are not going to ask for any special favours from Zimbabwe because we cannot go on a mission and ask the Zimbabwean government to allow into its country people it doesn't like," said Goutier. He added: "The EU cannot tell us what to do simply because they have called us to a meeting. On principle, we cannot accept that. The JPA is not part of the EU parliament so the EU cannot dictate to us what it wants us to do. The EU cannot be allowed to continue behaving like that."

Analysts said the latest development indicated deepening conflict between the ACP and EU, which have taken diverging stances on Zimbabwe. While the EU has rapped alleged electoral fraud and human rights abuse by the ruling ZANU PF, many ACP countries have publicly come out in support of the Zimbabwean government. Last November, an ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly meeting was cancelled because two Zimbabwean government officials were refused entry into the EU Parliament building in Brussels. ACP countries refused to participate in the meeting if the Zimbabwean officials were not allowed to attend. The two, Paul Mangwana and Chris Kuruneri, are on the list of Zimbabwean officials barred from entering EU countries. (Financial Gazette, Harare)

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