September 21, 2007

Summit 'must go on with Mugabe', EU-Commissioner Michel says

A summit between African and European leaders must go ahead regardless of Premier Gordon Brown's threat to boycott the gathering if President Robert Mugabe attends, the European Commission has said. Louis Michel, the aid and development commissioner, said: "We think that a single individual case cannot take as hostage the relations between two continents." Mugabe was banned from visiting EU member states in February 2002. But Michel said this restriction, which also applies to all Zimbabwean cabinet ministers and senior figures in the ruling Zanu PF party, did not stop them from coming to international meetings.
In principle, he said this measure would not prevent Mugabe from joining the summit in Lisbon in December. "I expect it is possible to have a compromise, but if there is no compromise, what can you do? The only option I cannot accept is suppressing the summit," he said. Michel also denied that he was criticising Brown and said that he shared the Prime Minister's view of "how Mugabe is leading his country". But Michel said that Britain should attend nonetheless. Privately, EU officials believe that Mr Brown's stance leaves room for compromise. The Zimbabwean leader could be invited to attend the summit on the understanding that he declines and sends his foreign minister instead. The British Foreign Office pointed to the precedent of a summit held in 2006 with Asian countries. Burma's regime, which is subjected to the same restrictions as Zimbabwe's leadership, sent its foreign minister.
In the meantime, Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa has announced that he would boycott an EU-Africa summit in Portugal if Mugabe was not invited and said other African leaders could do so as well. "I will not go to Portugal if Mugabe is not allowed. I don't know how many of us will be prepared to go to Portugal without Mugabe," Mwanawasa told journalists in Lusaka. (Rts)

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