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EU Says Sanctions Won't Hurt Ordinary Zimbabweans - 2002-02-18

European Union foreign ministers have imposed sanctions against the government of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. The ministers have also called back the EU election observer mission in the African nation.

The EU sanctions against President Mugabe and 19 other senior Zimbabwe officials include a visa ban and a freeze on their overseas assets.

A statement by the EU foreign ministers said the measures are designed not to harm ordinary citizens. The ministers said the sanctions should not prevent dialogue between the EU and Zimbabwe to address its economic and other problems.

The statement pointed out that Mr. Mugabe's government had prevented the deployment of an EU mission to observe next month's presidential election. As a result, officials said the targeted sanctions were approved. The European Union had threatened the move for weeks.

The action follows a report to the ministers on the situation in Zimbabwe from Piere Schori, the leader of the EU observer delegation. Zimbabwe expelled Mr. Schori on Saturday, accusing him of political arrogance.

Zimbabwe said it would not accept election observers from Sweden, Britain, Germany, Denmark, Finland or the Netherlands because they allegedly are biased against the Harare government. All of those countries have been among the most vocal critics of President Mugabe's policies, which they say stifle the opposition.

Analysts say the election is proving to be the biggest challenge to President Mugabe's two-decade rule amid a deepening economic crisis in the southern African nation.

There has been heavy international criticism of the Zimbabwe government over the deteriorating political situation in the country, including the seizure of white-owned farms and attempts to control the media and opposition.

The EU foreign ministers' statement, issued at a meeting in Brussels, said the sanctions against Zimbabwe are aimed solely at those whom the European Union judge to be responsible for the violence and violations of human rights.