European countries have this week been sending mixed messages on Zimbabwe's future, in terms of the restrictive 'shopping sanctions' still in place against the Robert Mugabe regime.
A top level meeting of the European Union (EU) at the end of the month is set to discuss the European bloc's plans to re engage with Zimbabwe. But there is confusion about whether or not this 'reengagement' will include a decision to lift the sanctions to help encourage reform.
According to the Financial Times newspaper, the UK has floated a proposal to ease EU sanctions on Zimbabwe in exchange for further democratic reforms. This is reportedly being sold as a "strategic shift" in the EU's stance towards Zimbabwe. The newspaper reported on Monday that under the UK plan, asset freezes and visa bans affecting dozens of Zimbabwean officials would be suspended if a constitutional referendum proceeds peacefully.
This report came at the same time that an EU spokesman said the restrictive sanctions would not be lifted any time soon. Michael Mann, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said: "There is no question of lifting sanctions against Mugabe or anyone involved in continued abuses of human rights, incitement to violence, etc - that is simply not up for discussion."
These comments from Ashton's office were in response to reports earlier this month that the lifting of the measures was being discussed, ahead of the EU Council meeting.
Political analyst Professor John Makumbe told SW Radio Africa on Tuesday that a wholesale lifting of the measures was unlikely, but he said it is possible that attempts to encourage reform will be made.
"I think the sanctions on some individuals may be suspended as a way of waving a carrot. I don't think it will work because the government is only doing a piecemeal job of implementing reforms. But the EU will still want to wave a carrot rather than crack the whip," Makumbe said.
Meanwhile, a British MP on Tuesday argued in Parliament that the sanctions need to be extended to include what he called a 'mafia' operating at the Chiadzwa diamond fields. Peter Hain, a former Minister for Africa, used, as evidence, a report by human rights group Global Witness, which said that money is being siphoned from the diamond fields to finance a "parallel government" in Zimbabwe.
Hain told SW Radio Africa on Monday that a "small corrupt mafia" in Chiadzwa was lining their pockets with diamond profits, and laying the path for another violent election in Zimbabwe.
"The evidence presented shows conclusively that the whole way the diamonds are being mined to line the pockets of this mafia, suggest they have the resources to ensure the elections may not be free or fair. We cannot allow this to happen," Hain said.