Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe attends an African Union summit in Addis Ababa on July 14. The European Union has promised to lift most of the sanctions slapped against Zimbabwe a decade ago if the country holds a "credible" vote on a new constitution, but diplomats said sanctions will not be removed against the veteran Zimbabwean leader. (AFP Photo/Simon Maina)
(AFP)--- In a policy U-turn, the European Union promised Monday to lift most of the sanctions slapped against Zimbabwe a decade ago if the country holds a "credible" vote on a new constitution.
The decision was immediately rejected by President Robert Mugabe's party as "nonsense" as British Foreign Secretary William Hague denied that the veteran Zimbabwean leader would be among those removed from an EU blacklist.
The suspension of the 2002 sanctions in order to promote reform in the southern African nation was proposed by Britain, much along the lines of the lifting of sanctions earlier this year to reward reformers in Myanmar.
"The decision reached today," said Hague, "represents an important step-change in the EU's approach to Zimbabwe."
"This approach will demonstrate to reformers across the political spectrum that the EU is serious about responding to concrete progress on the ground."
Welcoming recent "constructive dialogue" and "progress" between the nation's political foes -- Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai -- EU foreign ministers also agreed to resume direct aid to Zimbabwe's government after a 10-year suspension.
A statement from the 27 EU ministers said sanctions would be lifted against most of the 112 Zimbabweans still under the decade-old EU asset freeze and travel ban.
This would only occur once a referendum on a new constitution has been organised, probably at the end of the year.
"The EU agrees that a peaceful and credible constitutional referendum would represent an important milestone in the preparation of democratic elections that would justify a suspension of the majority of all EU targeted restrictive measures against individuals and entities," the statement said.
But Hague said the suspension was "not including those on Mugabe," who is 88 and has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.
An EU official also old AFP that "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".
The EU in May said it was involved in a "re-engagement" process with Zimbabwe after the country's leaders agreed to draft a new constitution to be put to a referendum before elections.
Drafting a new constitution was a key condition of reforms agreed in 2008 when Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing deal with arch-rival Tsvangirai after a violence-marred presidential election.
The draft of the country's new rule-book was finalised last week but no date fixed to put it to a referendum.
In Harare, a spokesman for Mugabe's ZANU-PF party said of the Brussels decision: "It's all nonsense."
"Why are they talking about a lifting of sanctions dependent on the holding and outcome of a referendum? We don't think that's the way to do it. We are saying all sanctions must go," said Rugare Gumbo.
"We really have never depended on the EU," he said. "We depend on ourselves so their decision on sanctions makes no difference."
Meanwhile Tsvangirai said during a visit to Australia that Zimbabwe was ready to re-engage with the global community after a "very dark and unfortunate history".
Australia too said it was open to easing sanctions.
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