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Britain Pledges More Aid To Zimbabwe - But Insists On Further Reform

Nearing the end of his European tour, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai met on Monday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, formally bringing to a close years of frosty bilateral relations between Harare and London.

Mr. Brown noted in a joint news briefing following his 10 Downing Street meeting with Mr. Tsvangirai that it had been 25 years since a Zimbabwean and British prime minister stood side by side.

Like other leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama have done during Mr. Tsvangirai's tour seeking political re-engagement and financial support, the British prime minister praised Mr. Tsvangirai’s “courage...determination...strength of character and fortitude."

Mr. Brown announced new aid to Zimbabwe in the amount of 5 million pounds (US$8.2 million) taking British aid to the country this year to more than 60 million pounds. Mr. Brown said the new funding will go to food and school books.

However, much as other Western leaders have done, Mr. Brown insisted that Britain needed to see Zimbabwe taking "further rapid steps forward" in implementing political and economic reforms before it would significantly expand support of the Harare government.

Responding, Mr. Tsvangirai called the steps toward democracy in Zimbabwe “irreversible,” though with many hurdles still to surmount given the uneasy partnership in a national unity government his Movement for Democratic Change has pursued since February with the long-ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, which has resisted change.

While affirming his commitment to human rights, Mr. Tsvangirai said he was conscious of his government's shortcomings in meeting benchmarks set by the West, but assured Mr. Brown that "we will be working very hard to ensure that those conditions are fulfilled."

Echoing Mr. Tsvangirai's pledge, his spokesman, James Maridadi, told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the prime minister was confident the unity government would soon meet international benchmarks for reform.

Mr. Tsvangirai will conclude his tour Wednesday in Paris meeting President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Foreign policy expert Tom Cargill of the Chatham House think tank in London said Western demands for reform put Mr. Tsvangirai in a tough spot as his ZANU-PF partners seem likely to resist his efforts to bring about the reforms the West has called for.

More news from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...