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EU Makes High-Level Visit to Zimbabwe

The European Union is to make its first high-level visit to Zimbabwe (this weekend) since it imposed sanctions on Harare seven years ago. A senior official says the EU is seeking to improve relations with Zimbabwe and help its economic recovery but that it is too early to end the sanctions.

The head of the European Union delegation, Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt, told reporters (in South Africa) on the eve of the visit that the mission was aimed at re-engaging Zimbabwe in order to help its economic recovery.

Mr. Reinfeldt, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the creation of the power-sharing government in Zimbabwe was an important step forward but added that obstacles still remain to ending the sanctions. "I think it's very promising that the former opposition leader now is prime minister of Zimbabwe. And he of course wants us to look at the reforms that are done in Zimbabwe. But we also see still the use of violence directed against supporters of (Mr.) Tsvangirai and also the abuses still of human rights seen in Zimbabwe," he said.

The European Union imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002 following elections marked by violence and accusations of widespread fraud. These were toughened after elections last year amid similar reports.

South African President Jacob Zuma, who welcomed the EU delegation in Cape Town Thursday, said the Southern African Development Community wants the sanctions lifted. "We are seeing things, as SADC, from a different point of view, that in fact the lifting of sanctions will help to quicken the process of the implementation of the Global Political Agreement," he said.

The Global Political Agreement, signed one year ago by President Robert Mugabe and then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, led to the formation of the unity government with Mr. Tsvangirai named to the new post of prime minister.

But the MDC has complained that Mr. Mugabe has prevented full implementation of the accord by failing to reverse appointments of allies to key political and administrative posts.

Mr. Mugabe has complained that Mr. Tsvangirai has failed to persuade western governments to lift the sanctions which he blames for Zimbabwe's economic problems.

Mr. Reinfeldt underscored that the sanctions are primarily travel restrictions and a freeze of foreign assets of senior ZANU-PF officials. He said they do not target the Zimbabwean people or economy. "We think they (sanctions) are quite clearly pinpointed at the persons in Zimbabwe that are responsible for abuses when it comes to human rights. So these are very important restrictions still for the European Union," he said.

South Africa and the EU delegation Friday issued a joint communique? urging all parties in Zimbabwe to remove all obstacles to the full implementation of the power sharing agreement.

The statement expressed appreciation for international humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe but made no mention of sanctions.

At the same time, the Zimbabwe government's Herald newspaper quoted senior government officials as saying they would like to normalize ties with the EU but that the starting point would be for the EU to admit that the sanctions are wrong.

The delegation, led by EU Aid Commissioner Karel de Gucht, is to visit Zimbabwe Saturday and Sunday.