28 January 2002

ZIMBABWE: EU foreign ministers decide on sanctions

Clare Bolderson (BBC Radio 4):
I spoke to the European commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten, who was at the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels where the decision on sanctions was made. He told me what message the Europeans are trying to send to president Mugabe.

Chris Patten (Commissioner for External Relations, European Commission):
We've been extraordinarily patient with Mr. Mugabe and his colleagues. But there comes a point when we have to determine whether or not he's serious and his colleagues are serious about holding fair elections and about honouring their obligations under our development agreement with them. So, we've said to Mr. Mugabe and his colleagues, look, by February 3rd we want it to be clear that we can have an EU observation team in place for the elections, that the national and international media can cover them properly and we don't want to see any further increase in violence. Unless those conditions are met then we're sorry but we'll regard our present consultations with you as at an end and we'll move on to sanctions. Not sanctions targeted, it has to be said, on the people of Zimbabwe but sanctions very specifically targeted on members of the regime.

Clare Bolderson:
You say move on to sanctions. Would they come in to effect automatically on February the 3rd or…

Chris Patten:
Yes, they would, I mean, we've set out very clearly what the position would be, we'll obviously prepare the ground so that we're able to do this but we can't hang about any longer. We're not being unreasonable about this. We've got, I suppose, more experience than anybody of running election observation and in order for it to be effective you need to have a sizeable team in place at least five or six weeks before the elections take place. They need to be properly accredited, their security needs to be guaranteed, they need to have access to anybody they want to talk to, they need to have access to every part of the country. Unless you can do that, you're just giving a fig leaf to whatever the local regime wishes to do.

Clare Bolderson:
President Mugabe has, in fact, said today that he would be prepared to allow EU observers in but not the British. Is that good enough?

Chris Patten:
Well, I don't think there were any British involved last time. But let's see exactly what Mr. Mugabe and his colleagues say. There's a slight sense of suspicion, I think, in the European Union that they're inclined to string us along and say they'll be prepared to do things and then when you actually look at the not-so-fine print you discover that the promises aren't quite what you were led to expect. I haven't seen any statement from Mr. Mugabe saying he would allow in an EU observation mission but I hope that we get such an assurance. I hope that we're able to put an observation mission on the ground as soon as possible. I repeat what I've said already. We have no argument at all with the people of Zimbabwe, we feel extremely sorry that their situation has been made so wretched by the administration and if we have an argument it's with Mr. Mugabe and his closest pals.

Clare Bolderson:
But, will the threat of sanctions do anything to ensure that there are free and fair elections, that the lives, the wretched lives as you put it of those people in Zimbabwe are made any better?

Chris Patten:
Well, what we would most like to do is to have an observation mission in place because we think that that would not only help to secure elections as fair as possible but would also help to avoid violence in the pre-election period. Make no mistake that our principal objective is to get that observation team in place. But, if it's not allowed in to Zimbabwe then what lesson are we supposed to draw from that? What conclusion are we supposed to draw? It's pretty obvious, isn't it? (BBC Radio 4 on EU Website)

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