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EU Election Observers Leave Zimbabwe - 2002-02-19

European election observers have pulled out of Zimbabwe, following the approval of EU sanctions against the government of President Robert Mugabe. Opposition leaders say the EU decision has come too late and will have little effect on next month's presidential election.

Stephan Ameer, spokesman for the EU team, said the group received little cooperation from the Mugabe government from the time it entered the country. He said in their week in Zimbabwe the 30 EU team members had been prevented from going out of Harare because of what he called "delaying tactics by the government."

Mr. Ameer said government officials had brought up problems with visas and other matters each time the observers were ready to deploy around the country.

Mission leader Pierre Schori was deported after the government said he was only allowed into Zimbabwe as a tourist and was barred from making public statements.

Tendai Biti, the spokesman on foreign affairs for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said the EU decision on sanctions should have been made several months ago. He accused the European Union of "weakness" in its dealings with Mr. Mugabe.

According to Mr. Biti, the European Union has "totally misunderstood how ruthless Mr. Mugabe is."

Mr. Biti says that the presence of election monitors has never made any difference to the level of violence and intimidation of voters anywhere in the world. "It is the people of the country themselves who do that."

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is the main challenger to President Mugabe.

Mugabe government Information Minister Jonathan Moyo describes the imposition of sanctions as "economic terrorism." He says the withdrawal of the observers is an attempt by some of the nations of the European Union to disguise their role in an alleged plot to assassinate Mr. Mugabe.

Political violence has continued in the campaign for the March 9-10 election. A Zimbabwe-based group of human rights organizations, the Human Rights Forum, says that 25 people, almost all of them MDC supporters, have been killed since the beginning of the year.

The Human Rights Forum blames the ruling ZANU-PF party, particularly the youth militia, for almost all of the violence. The ruling party has not commented on the claims by the Human Rights Forum.