4 March 2002

Commonwealth Summit strikes Zimbabwe deal

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says a deal has been reached at the Commonwealth summit in Australia on the question of Zimbabwe. Mr Obasanjo told the BBC that a three-member committee would be set up comprising himself, his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki and the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. He said Zimbabwe would not be suspended from the Commonwealth before next weekend's presidential election. But, after the election, the new committee will consider the report of the Commonwealth's election observers and take action against Zimbabwe if they think it is necessary. Commonwealth leaders meeting in Coolum, Queensland, have been divided over calls for punitive action against Zimbabwe and the issue has overshadowed all other topics at the summit.

The BBC's Diplomatic Correspondent, Barnaby Mason, says it is a careful compromise with no commitment to take any particular action. The three-member body will have the power to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. "This has not been an easy issue, strong views are held," said Mr Howard. Britain has been pressing for the suspension of Zimbabwe over political violence in the run up to the presidential elections. President Obasanjo said there had been long discussions among Commonwealth leaders but a consensus had been reached. Significantly, he said, Zimbabwe had been party to the agreement. President Obasanjo said there had been no winners or losers.

Commonwealth leaders have been holding informal talks on the issue of Zimbabwe and the human rights record of President Robert Mugabe. States such as Britain and Australia have been urging Zimbabwe's suspension from the body. But, with Tanzania and Namibia opposing any discussion of the issue at all, the conference had at times resembled a black-white divide. On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien held talks with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr Mbeki and Mr Obasanjo. He promised a "mechanism for a quick decision" once election observers reported their conclusions. Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, described Britain's stance as "disgraceful" when he made an impromptu appearance at the summit. President Mugabe himself has reportedly called on Mr Blair to keep his "pink nose" out of Zimbabwe's affairs. (BBC News)

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