December 5, 2003

Commonwealth summit overshadowed by Zimbabwe's suspension

Commonwealth leaders have set up a six-nation panel to meet on the sidelines of the Abuja summit to discuss the contentious issue of Zimbabwe's suspension. Summit host and Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo proposed that representatives from Australia, Canada, India, Jamaica, Mozambique and South Africa should meet separately from the main summit to draw up a report on the issue. The Commonwealth had suspended Zimbabwe last year because opposition groups and Western nations accused Mugabe of rigging his re-election and harassing opponents.

"I hope and remain reasonably confident that the suspension will continue until they comply with what the Commonwealth set out in terms of rule of law, human rights and proper governance," the British Prime Minister Blair let know. But some half dozen fellow African nations, including South Africa, believe that the sanction is not fostering political reconciliation in Zimbabwe. "We do not believe that the continued isolation of Zimbabwe is delivering the desired result," Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano said. "In our opinion they should return to the fold." The debate over Zimbabwe furthermore eclipsed other issues such as trade, terrorism and AIDS at the start of the summit.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's President Mugabe has repeated his threat to pull his country out of the 54-member organisation. "If the choice was made for us ... to remain with our sovereignty and lose membership of the Commonwealth, then I would say, let the Commonwealth go," he said at the opening of the ZANU-PF party's annual conference in the southern Zimbabwean town of Masvingo. "What is the Commonwealth to us? It is a club. There are other clubs we can join." The issue of land reform and Zimbabwe's economic crisis dominated the official agenda of the Masvingo conference, the theme of which was "total land use for economic turn-around". (IRIN / Rts / The Herald, Harare)

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