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US 'Regrets' French Summit Invitation to Zimbabwe President - 2003-01-25


The United States is expressing regret over France's decision to invite Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to a Paris summit next month in seeming contradiction of European Union travel sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and his top associates.

The State Department says the French decision to invite Mr. Mugabe to the February 21 Franco-African summit in Paris is "regrettable" and it is urging France and all other European countries to apply EU sanctions against the Zimbabwean leadership in a "consistent and effective manner."

The European Union imposed so-called "targeted" sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and his senior associates nearly a year ago, citing election-campaign attacks on political opponents of the Zimbabwean leader and other human rights violations by his government

The sanctions barred travel to European Union countries by Mr. Mugabe and his aides, and froze their European financial assets.

However, France extended the invitation to Mr. Mugabe, citing an exception in the sanctions program allowing visas to be issued for visits that would promote democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the French invitation comes at a time when human rights conditions in Zimbabwe are, if anything, deteriorating. "We note that in recent weeks, the government of Zimbabwe has increased political intimidation and repression against prominent members of the opposition. In January alone, four members of the parliament, the mayor of Harare, and several other opposition supporters have been arrested on spurious charges or in some cases subjected to torture while in custody," he said.

The United States imposed its own travel and financial sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and members of his ruling circle because of election-related human rights abuses last year, and Mr. Boucher said the Bush administration is considering the imposition of further measures.

Britain is also protesting the French invitation, which comes as EU foreign ministers prepare for a meeting in Brussels next week that is expected to extend the Zimbabwe sanctions for another year. Other EU member countries could veto the invitation, but it is considered unlikely since France could respond by blocking renewal of the sanctions package.

Reports from London say the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair will focus its efforts on heading off a possible invitation by Portugal for Mr. Mugabe to attend an EU-African summit to be held in Lisbon in April.

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