British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Thursday stated in black and white newsprint that he would refuse to attend the European Union-African Union Summit in December in Lisbon if Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is present at the gathering.
Mr. Brown laid down his ultimatum in a bylined article in The Independent of London, declaring that it would “not be appropriate” for him to attend the summit alongside Mr. Mugabe in light of ongoing “abuse” in the Southern African country.
Mr. Brown said Mr. Mugabe’s presence in Lisbon would mean lifting an EU travel ban laid on Mr. Mugabe and his inner circle by Europe, the United States and others.
The prime minister said he believed that Mr. Mugabe's presence "would undermine the summit, diverting attention from the important issues that need to be resolved. In those circumstances, my attendance would not be appropriate."
Contacted for comment on Mr. Brown's position, a spokesperson for the Portuguese president, who will host the summit, declined to comment, but repeated that Lisbon will not discriminate against any country, and that no invitations had yet been issued.
Britain, together with African and international partners, was putting together a long-term recovery package to help Zimbabwe when "democracy returns" there.
The plan will "help Zimbabwe restart and stabilize its economy, restructure and reduce its debt, help skilled people who have left the country return home, renovate schools and hospitals and very importantly support fair land reform.”
Pending a democratic transition, Mr. Brown said Britain remained committed to helping Zimbabwe by providing extensive humanitarian assistance.
"We are currently the second largest donor in Zimbabwe, providing up to 40 million pounds a year in humanitarian assistance and for HIV and AIDS care in support of the most vulnerable," Brown wrote in his Independent article. "In addition, the British government is announcing today an additional 8 million pounds for Zimbabwe this year, to be delivered through the World Food Program."
Mr. Brown’s statements coincided with what some saw as a breakthrough in relations between the Zimbabwe's ruling and opposition parties, which agreed on the terms of a constitutional amendment that will significantly alter the electoral landscape. Critics of the bill say it sets the stage for Mr. Mugabe to choose his own successor.
Africa Program Director Steven Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the British-Zimbabwean wrangle goes well beyond the summit.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...