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US Puts Sanctions on Business 'Cronies' of Zimbabwe's Mugabe

The United States Tuesday imposed sanctions against four persons described by the Treasury Department as business cronies of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Officials say the targeted sanctions are intended to prod the Zimbabwean leader into meaningful-power sharing with the political opposition. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration has added four more names to a growing list of Mugabe family members and close associates facing U.S. financial sanctions.

The list announced by the Treasury Department includes two prominent Zimbabwean businessmen accused of helping channel funds to Harare government insiders, and two foreign nationals - a Thai businesswoman and a Malaysian doctor - said to have engaged in deals benefiting the Mugabe family.

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee had warned last week that new sanctions were being prepared, unless there was early progress in power-sharing talks between the Mugabe government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which won parliamentary elections last March.

Thus far, despite a power-sharing accord with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai reached in September, Mr. Mugabe has insisted on retaining the most powerful cabinet positions including defense and finance, and offering the MDC only social-service portfolios.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood told VOA the new sanctions are intended to put pressure on Mr. Mugabe to negotiate seriously, and that they seem to be the only way to make the point to the Zimbabwean leader that the world community will not sit back and watch the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorate further.

Wood said the sanctions are crafted to impact on the ruling circle in Harare and not impose greater hardship on the Zimbabwean people.

"What we're trying to do is put sanctions on individuals and entities that are propping up the Mugabe regime," said Robert Wood. "That's what we're trying to do. We're not trying to target innocent Zimbabweans. This is not their fault. They went to the polls to express their free will, and the Mugabe regime has not been willing to accept the will of the people. And what we have been trying to do is facilitate, with our partners in the international community, a way to bring about a peaceful, democratic solution."

A Treasury Department statement identified the two Zimbabwean businessmen facing sanctions as John Breedenkamp and Muller Conrad Rautenbach.

It said Breedencamp, a well-known Mugabe insider, has helped prop up the government with a web of companies. It said Rautenbach aided senior officials during Zimbabwe's intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and supported mining projects benefiting a small number of corrupt senior officials.

The Thai businesswoman, Nalinee Joy Taveesin, is said to have facilitated financial, real estate and gem transactions benefiting Mr. Mugabe's wife Grace, who has long been subject to U.S. sanctions herself.

The fourth person designated, Malaysian urologist Mahmood Awang Kechik, one of Mr. Mugabe's personal doctors, is said to have used his medical practice to conceal the destination of medical equipment bound for Zimbabwe, and to generate wealth for government officials.

Under the Treasury designation, U.S. companies and individuals are barred from business dealings with the named persons, and any of their assets within U.S. jurisdiction are frozen.

In a statement Saturday at the Pacific summit in Peru, President Bush said despite their votes in March, Zimbabweans are still governed by what he termed an "illegitimate regime" that suppresses democratic voices and human rights.

He said despite the Harare government's aggressive actions, the United States will continue its $200-million a year humanitarian aid program to the Zimbabwean people.