THE European Union has defended sanctions imposed against Harare more than a decade ago, insisting they forced President Robert Mugabe to change and helped trigger a "positive evolution" in the country.
The EU, the United States and other Western countries imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe accusing Mugabe's administration of vote fraud and human rights abuses.
The veteran leader, 90 years-old this year, denied the allegations insisting he was being punished for reforms aimed at addressing colonial injustices in the distribution of land in the country.
Critics however say the sanctions, aimed at forcing Mugabe onto a more democratic path, only gave the Zanu PF leader an excuse to clampdown on the opposition, leading to violent elections such as the inconclusive 2008 ballot.
Mugabe has also blamed sanctions for the country's decade-long recession which left the country's economy near complete collapse and forced millions of Zimbabweans to escape into neighbouring countries.
However, the EU's ambassador to Zimbabwe, Aldo Dell'Ariccia, defended the "measures" last week, telling NewZimbabwe.com the sanctions infact forced Mugabe to agree to the coalition deal with his rivals after the 2008 vote, leading to some reforms in the country which included a new Constitution.
"As a matter of fact, there is an evolution of the situation in the country, a positive evolution," said the envoy.
The EU offered to completely remove the sanctions in the period leading to last year's elections on condition Mugabe organised a credible vote.
Although the elections were relatively peaceful and endorsed by African observers, the EU and the US backed opposition still maintain the vote was fraudulent.
Said Dell'Ariccia: "The evolution, in our view, is not as positive as it could have been if the elections had been completely credible and, again, not talking about the results but the process."
The EU has since lifted most of the sanctions with only Mugabe and his wife, Grace, still subject to a travel and asset ban while restrictions against the State-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) also remain.
Zanu PF rejected the move saying there was no reason for keeping its leader under sanctions.
"They cannot keep the president on the sanctions list, what has Mugabe done? We have said we are open to talking to the EU but they have to remove those sanctions, they are hurting our people," said party spokesman Rugare Gumbo in February.
However, Dell'Ariccia explained the thinking in Brussels regarding Mugabe and his wife.
"There are still efforts that, in our view, the government of Zimbabwe has to do, not to us, but to its people and this is why we still have some of these measures still in place," he said.