France has again stirred controversy by extending an invitation to the government of Zimbabwe - in effect, President Robert Mugabe - to participate in the France-Africa Summit to be held in Cannes, France, in February.

An official at the French Embassy in Washington said Zimbabwe had been invited as a country and Mr. Mugabe as an individual was not invited. The spokeswoman declined to say what France would do if President Mugabe indicated he would attend.

The London based anti-Mugabe activist group Zimbabwe Vigil said it would mobilise protests against French accommodation of Mr. Mugabe at the summit.

France similarly stirred controversy in January 2003 when Paris invited Mr. Mugabe to the summit which brings together the former colonial power and African nations with which it maintains close ties. Mr. Mugabe attended the summit, to the chagrin of his Western critics. Would-be Zimbabwean protesters were denied entry to France.

European Union members including England and Sweden sharply criticized the French government for including Mr. Mugabe in the proceedings.

Under targeted sanctions maintained by the European Union and the United States, Mr. Mugabe and 19 members of his cabinet are banned from travel to or through American or European territory. Reports said Europe's sanctions are expected to be renewed a few days before the latest France-Africa summit begins on Feb. 18.

Zimbabwe Vigil coordinator Rose Benton told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that her group has sent a letter to French President Jacques Chirac and is lobbying trade unionists in France and the United Kingdom.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe...