African leaders snubbed a diplomatic drive by Harare to boycott a French summit with African nations that opened Thursday with 30 African heads of state on hand. A total of 48 countries from the continent were represented despite France's decision. under heavy pressure from Great Britain and others, to exclude President Robert Mugabe.
Also on hand was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who currently holds the rotating European Union presidency. In his opening remarks at the summit, French President Jacques Chirac urged Sudan to admit more peacekeeping troops to Darfur.
The Zimbabwean government spurned a last-minute compromise offered by Paris and declined to send its foreign minister or another high official in Mr. Mugabe's place.
Harare revealed its pique as the state-controlled Herald newspaper called the AU leaders “little children” trooping to the summit at the Chirac's behest.
One French official explained that when Paris invited Mr. Mugabe to another summit in 2003 over strong EU and American objections it hoped to open a dialogue on human rights with Harare. But he said its hopes in this respect have been disappointed.
African Union sources said Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi lobbied AU member states to pressure Paris to invite Mr. Mugabe, but without success. They said he was told that each country had to decide for itself as a bilateral matter.
Southern African leaders in Paris include presidents Festus Mogae of Botswana, Levi Mwanawasa of Zambia and Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia. Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili accepted the French invitation and South African Foreign Minister Nkosazane Dhlamini Zuma is representing his president, Thabo Mbeki.
Political analyst Brian Raftopoulos of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the French decision indicates the European Union is united on isolating Harare and telegraphs that EU sanctions expiring this month will be renewed.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...