(Updates with comment by SADC in 10th paragraph.)
Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The European Union eased its sanctions on Zimbabwe because of progress made by the southern African nation in resolving a political crisis and preparing for elections.
A travel ban and asset freeze on 51 Zimbabweans and 20 “entities” are removed, the EU, based in Brussels, said in an e-mailed statement today. Sanctions remain on 112 individuals, including President Robert Mugabe, and 11 entities accused of human rights abuses, it said. Restrictions on aid will be extended for six months to allow for talks on when these can be lifted. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front said the move is meaningless.
The EU “welcomes progress made towards the creation of a conducive environment for the holding of free, fair, peaceful and transparent elections,” it said.
The move is the first step in normalizing relations after the EU and the U.S. imposed sanctions on top officials in Mugabe’s government and Zanu-PF following disputed elections and political violence. Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change formed a power- sharing government in 2009 that helped end a decade-long recession. Mugabe, 87, has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980.
The Southern African Development Community, a regional group, is pushing Zimbabwe to write a new constitution and prepare for elections. South African President Jacob Zuma said on Sept. 29 sanctions hindered preparations for the vote and heightened tensions in the country.
The EU “pays tribute to the efforts of SADC and the South African facilitator in accompanying the Zimbabwean Government along that road” to elections, it said.
Travel restrictions will also be suspended on two officials from Zanu-PF involved in negotiations with the MDC so that they can take part in talks in Brussels, the EU said.
While progress has been made, further political reforms are needed to fully abide by a SADC-backed political agreement, it said.
The partial lifting of sanctions is “unimportant,” Zanu- PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said by phone from Harare, the capital. “There should be no sanctions on Zimbabwe. They are racist and Europe seems to be manipulated by Britain.”
Status Quo Remains
SADC maintains its stance that all sanctions must be removed, the group’s spokeswoman Leefa P. Martin said by phone from its headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital. “The status quo remains the same as Zimbabwe can’t access finance from international markets,” she said.
Mugabe has rejected a first draft of a new constitution that would have barred him from competing in the next vote, which had been expected this year. Delays on agreeing to the constitution may put off elections until next year.
Zimbabwe has the world’s second-biggest reserves of platinum and chrome after South Africa, and also exports tobacco and diamonds. Companies operating in the country include Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., Rio Tinto Group and Anglo American Platinum Ltd.
--With assistance from Godfrey Marawanyika in Johannesburg. Editors: Hilton Shone, Antony Sguazzin
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