26 January 2003

Africa: SA And Nigeria Will Block Sanctions Against Zimbabwe

Johannesburg — ZIMBABWE looks set to escape sanctions and further penalisation by the Commonwealth.

Two of the three countries charged with deciding the country's fate in March last year, Nigeria and South Africa, say they are unwilling to consider sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Australia is now to wage a lone battle to push for Zimbabwe's full suspension and the imposition of sanctions by the 54-member Commonwealth.

Zimbabwe was suspended for a year from the Commonwealth's councils following its rigged presidential election last March. Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and South African President Thabo Mbeki - who comprise the Commonwealth troika that imposed the suspension - now have to review the matter.

Nigeria's high commissioner to Zimbabwe, Wilberforce Juta, said this week sanctions against Zimbabwe would be the "the last resort".

"The Commonwealth is a community and we want to assist Zimbabwe to get back in. The interest of the Commonwealth is to see peace and prosperity, and how to correct the problems in Zimbabwe. Ostracising and maligning the country will not achieve that," said Juta.

Mbeki's spokesman Bheki Khumalo said on Friday: "There is no need for sanctions against Zimbabwe.

"We are totally opposed to it. It is not even a last resort. There will be total chaos and a meltdown that will threaten the very Zimbabweans we are trying to help."

Howard was outvoted when he tried to force Zimbabwe's full suspension at a meeting of the three leaders in September. Australia's deputy high commissioner in South Africa, Billy Williams, said his country's position towards Zimbabwe was "consistent". He said: "We don't want to pre-empt anything . . . But we haven't seen any change or progress in Zimbabwe."

Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon is to submit a report to the troika on developments in Zimbabwe in the past year. But the Zimbabwean government has refused McKinnon's requests for meetings.

Commonwealth spokesman Joel Kibazo, however, said McKinnon had "kept himself very much aware of the situation on the ground". The report would be based on information gathered by the Commonwealth's political affairs department, diplomatic sources and government leaders "who have their own channels of communication", said Kibazo.

Juta said Obasanjo would meet Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe next month in preparation for the troika's meeting.

Juta and Khumalo said their governments were prepared to continue mediating in the Zimbabwean crisis despite claims by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change that Obasanjo and Mbeki were biased towards Mugabe.

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