The controversy surrounding whether Zimbabwe?s President Robert Mugabe would attend the Euro-Africa summit scheduled for December in Lisbon, Portugal has taken another dramatic turn. This comes after Zambia?s President Levy Mwanawasa said yesterday (Thursday) that he would boycott the summit if Mugabe were to be barred from attending. His response sharply contrasts British Prime Minister Gordon Brown?s recent threat that he would refuse to be in the same meeting with President Mugabe present.

Mwanawasa, who is also the current chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said the purpose of the summit will be defeated if Mugabe is barred from attending the meeting. He said leaders who have anything against President Mugabe should utilize the summit to dialogue and iron out their differences.

Mike Mulongoti is Zambia?s Minister for information. From the capital, Lusaka he tells reporter Peter Clottey that Zambia believes in solving problems by dialogue.

?His (Mwanawasa?s) statement was that he has always believed in dialogue, and dialogue must be encouraged at all levels. And that it would not serve any purpose to boycott the meeting in Portugal because that would be the killing of the principle of dialogue. And he believes that even if there were differences, it would be appropriate for people to meet and discuss those differences as opposed to barring people, boycotting meetings. So he said that if President Mugabe was barred from attending the European-African summit, it would be pointless for President Mwanawasa and others to go there because, then there is no need if people are not willing to dialogue with others,? Mulongoti explained.

He said although the Zambian president is chairman of SADC, his stance is not law, which would bind other African heads of state to follow suit.

?Well, sovereign states have each to decide in which ever direction they want to take. But he (Mwanawasa) spoke as the president of the republic of Zambia, and also as the chairman of SADC. This does not imply that he was giving instructions to anybody,? he pointed out.

Mulongoti said other African countries would decide if their interests would be best served by boycotting the summit or not.

?Reactions between states have to do with interest. And if a state decides to take such a position on a matter, it does not imply that they are trying to jeopardize relations. Sovereignty means you are free to decide in whichever way you want on a particular issue, and you cannot be compelled by others. If others feel that their interest would be served by going to the summit, I think there is noting wrong with that,? Mulongoti said.

He said summits, by their nature, are supposed to present platforms and to resolve differences through discussion.

?I thought summits were intended for people to dialogue. If people begin to shun going to meetings, I mean what purpose does these meetings hold if the people who have got differences resolve their differences? So it would be unfortunate that people can boycott before they can go and resolve their issues. If there are no problems that can never be resolved, and unless people begin to go to conferences in a give-and-take spirit, we would not resolve any problems of the world. So I think as far as Zambia is concerned, we have not closed the doors?I think what we must encourage is that people must dialogue,? he said.