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In Bilateral Talks, Zimbabwe Presses EU to Lift Sanctions on Mugabe

A Zimbabwe ministerial delegation pressed the European Union Thursday to remove all sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and senior members of his Zanu PF party, as Harare and Brussels restarted talks to normalize long-frozen bilateral relations.

The EU slapped Mr. Mugabe and his inner circle with travel and financial restrictions in 2002 over allegations of human rights violations and voter fraud.

The Zimbabwe delegation, comprising ministers Patrick Chinamasa, Elton Mangoma and Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga met with the EU officials led by foreign chief, Catherine Ashton in Brussels, Belgium.

Ashton's office said in a statement the meeting “was an opportunity to deepen dialogue with Zimbabwe, enhance our common understanding and help build trust and confidence on both sides.”

"The Zimbabwe re-engagement team pressed the case for a full removal of sanctions to increase the level playing field and enhance the prospects for full implementation of the Global Political Agreement," the statement added.

The 27-nation bloc has since removed measures on 51 Zanu PF officials and entities out of about 200, to encourage further political reform. But the party is insisting on the removal of all restrictions before committing to fundamental political changes.

Though the pace of reform in Harare has been painfully slow, it hasn't gone without the EU's appreciation.

"The EU recognized progress to date and encouraged the reform process to continue in the same positive direction, allowing progress towards normalization of relations."

As a follow-up to the one-day meeting, Zimbabwe will send the European bloc a letter setting out its case "which the EU side would consider before the end of July."

The Harare mission was later in the evening expected to release its own communique on the proceedings.

But back in Harare, Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo playing down the talks saying his party was not expecting much as the Europeans keep refusing to remove the so-called targeted measures.

Responding, Douglas Mwonzora, spokesman for the MDC formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai urged Zanu PF to reform before calling for the wholesome removal of restrictions.

For perspective, VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo spoke with director Sydney Chisi of the Youth Initiative for Democracy and Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe Executive Director John Mufukare.

Chisi commended the EU for opening dialogue with Harare, but said the two parties remain separated on key political issues.