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Zimbabwe Presidential Spokesman Says Targeting Swiss Units Now 'Policy'

Presidential spokesman George Charamba said Mr. Mugabe had 'announced policy' and implementation was in the hands of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and 'possibly' the Ministry of Indigenization

A spokesman for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has stated that it is a matter of state policy now to target Swiss-owned businesses and properties in retaliation for that country's recent refusal to grant visas to Mr. Mugabe's wife, Grace, and five aides.

George Charamba, Information Ministry permanent secretary and spokesman for Mr. Mugabe, told the independent Newsday paper that Mr. Mugabe had "announced policy" and implementation was in the hands of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and "possibly" the Ministry of Indigenization, which is pressing foreign firms for majority black stakes.

He said Swiss companies "are not exempted" from the indigenization process.

Charamba added that "surely, if you don’t want visitors from Zimbabwe why should you want to make money in Zimbabwe?”

Mr. Mugabe received a visa to attend a United Nations telecoms summit in Geneva last week but canceled the trip after his wife and several senior aides were turned down on the basis that they were among individuals listed for Swiss travel and financial sanctions instituted in 2002 over Harare's alleged human rights violations and election-rigging.

Mr. Mugabe, describing the Swiss as "vicious," said Zimbabwe would “reciprocate."

Observers said the Zimbabwean subsidiary of Swiss food giant Nestlé seemed a logical target, being one of the largest Swiss units in the country and given sharp differences in the past between the company and the Mugabe family, a former milk supplier.

But Nestlé Southern African Regional Communications Manager Brindah Chiniah said the company has not received any communications from government.

She would not say whether Nestlé would abide by the widely-criticized indigenisation law requiring foreign firms to transfer a 51 percent stake to local blacks.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said the Cabinet has not adopted any particular policy regarding Swiss firms.

Mr. Tsvangirai has declared his opposition to the indigenization program as it is being pursued by Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF, calling it a threat to economic recovery.

"Charamba should know that there is a difference between ZANU-PF and the government," MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said. "What he is saying is not government policy because it was never brought to cabinet."

Tendai Savanhu, ZANU-PF deputy secretary of economic affairs, said the Swiss visa denials were inexcusable and that Harare must retaliate.

Economist Godfrey Kanyenze urged moderation, telling VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that moves by Harare against Swiss interests could backfire.