EU to consider easing Zimbabwe sanctions

Robert Mugabe Restrictions on Robert Mugabe are expected to remain in place

EU governments are considering easing sanctions against Zimbabwe in exchange for political reform, reports say.

Foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday to discuss suspending restrictions on development aid, among other measures.

The moves would be conditional, occurring only after a credible referendum on a new constitution.

The UK government has said it supports such moves to encourage free and fair elections in the country.

According to a copy of the statement obtained by AFP news agency and expected to be adopted by ministers of the 27 nations, a "peaceful and credible constitutional referendum would justify the suspension of the majority of the European Union's restrictive measures".

Western governments have considered easing sanctions since a power-sharing deal was agreed between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), following disputed elections in 2008.

Part of the conditions for easing the sanctions would be that fresh elections must be held by next year, with a new constitution drawn up and a credible referendum held on reforms.

"We think now is a critical moment to encourage the process of reform and incentify the reformers," one anonymous European diplomat told AFP.

"It is time for the EU to shift its positions."

Ministers are also expected to offer to lift sanctions against most of the 112 Zimbabweans still under an EU asset freeze and travel ban imposed in 2002, according to the news agency.

All but a small core of individuals close to and including Mr Mugabe would be included, it said.

The EU has already lifted some of its sanctions against top Zimbabwean officials, to support what it said was the power-sharing government's "significant progress" on tackling the country's economic crisis.

One EU diplomat told Reuters that all sanctions on development aid would also be suspended, allowing the EU to deal directly with the Zimbabwean government rather than it having to be directed through non-governmental organisations, as is currently the case.

The EU's executive Commission channels around 100m euros a year ($123m; £77.8m) in development assistance to Zimbabwe.

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