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EU Ministers Consider Zimbabwe Sanctions - 2002-01-28

EU foreign ministers are discussing whether to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe in response to its crackdown on political opponents and the news media before the March presidential election. The European Union is trying to do what it can to make sure the elections are free and fair.

Diplomats attending the foreign ministers' meeting say the 15-nation European Union is likely to threaten sanctions against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, his family and entourage if Harare does not admit international election observers before the March election. But the diplomats say the European Union does not plan to impose sanctions for the time being.

Britain, the EU member that has taken the hardest line against the Zimbabwe government, has proposed freezing the foreign assets of Mr. Mugabe and his associates and imposing a travel ban on them. Also under discussion is a cut in EU aid to Zimbabwe.

But even British diplomats say such measures are not likely to emerge from the meeting, which is being held through Tuesday in Brussels

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told his colleagues that the European Union must ensure that democracy, human rights, and free elections are respected in Zimbabwe. "The United Kingdom's view is very widely shared that we need a strong and effective set of decisions today to ensure that these values, which we hold dear, and that other countries, including Zimbabwe, have signed up to on paper, are made effective," said Mr. Straw. "Or else, we show that we in the European Union are going to take action against those who are transgressing these values."

The European Union wants Mr. Mugabe to allow independent election observers to monitor the March election. It fears that, otherwise, the Zimbabwe leader will rig the poll to ensure the continuity of his 22-year rule.

European officials are also concerned about legislation in Zimbabwe that gives the government the power to muzzle local news media and restrict coverage in the country by foreign correspondents.

Earlier this month, the Zimbabwe government criticized the European Union for trying to tell it how the country should run its own affairs.