via David Cameron in EU Africa summit dilemma after Robert Mugabe invited – Telegraph By Aislinn Laing, and Peta Thornycroft 09 Feb 2014
Prime Minister faces dilemma over whether to attend EU Africa summit after Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe formally invited
David Cameron faces a dilemma over whether to attend a summit between Africa and the European Union after President Robert Mugabe was formally invited to attend.
The invitation comes despite Zimbabwe’s leader being officially banned from visiting any EU member state.
As prime minister, Gordon Brown boycotted an earlier EU-Africa summit attended by Mr Mugabe in Lisbon in 2007. He also ruled that no British minister would be present.
On Sunday, Downing Street declined to say whether Mr Cameron would stay away from the conference, due to take place in Brussels in April.
But the Foreign Office made clear that the UK did not approve of the EU invitation to the Zimbabwean president but said it was agreed in return for the renewal of EU sanctions on him which are due to expire at the end of this month.
“The UK would prefer not to see Mugabe at the Summit, but it was a necessary part of the EU agreement to renew the overall sanctions on Zimbabwe which we played a leading part in maintaining,” it said in a statement to the Telegraph.
“The UK government is absolutely clear: attendance at one EU meeting in Brussels does not change in any way the fact that Robert Mugabe is not, and will not be, permitted to travel to the UK.”
Kate Hoey, a Labour MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe, urged the Prime Minister to boycott. “If he [Mr Mugabe] now is to be there, then I would call on our Prime Minister to follow the principled lead of his predecessor Gordon Brown,” she said.
Mr Mugabe, the oldest leader in Africa who turns 90 on Feb 21, was re-elected last year amid accusations of widespread vote rigging. He is accused of presiding over serious human rights abuses, claiming thousands of lives, during his 33-year rule.
The EU banned Mr Mugabe and a raft of his allies from visiting any member state in 2002. This measure also froze any assets they hold in EU banks. However, the travel ban does not prevent Mr Mugabe from attending international gatherings.
Aldo Dell’Ariccia, the EU Ambassador to Zimbabwe, confirmed that Mr Mugabe would be welcome in Brussels. “President Mugabe is invited to the summit and I hope he will attend along with all the other leaders who have been invited,” he said.
The ambassador denied this was a softening of the EU’s attitude towards Mr Mugabe. “There are international laws that have to be respected and these make exceptions for heads of state that are on targeted measures to be allowed to attend summits,” he said.
In practice, the EU has taken a softer line towards Mr Mugabe since he established a coalition government in 2009. This process continued after he won last year’s election, which was comparatively free of violence, and introduced a new constitution.
Last year, EU foreign ministers suspended from the list of Zimbabweans subjected to travel bans and asset freezes the names of 81 ministers and officials.
It also lifted restrictions on the state company handling exports from Zimbabwe’s rich diamond fields. Only Mr Mugabe is still on the list, along with his wife, Grace, and eight generals and security officials.
The United States, by contrast, continues to impose targeted sanctions on a large number of ministers, officials and state companies. America has made clear that Mr Mugabe will not be welcome at an African Leaders’ Summit due to be hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington later this year.
Britain wants to boost trade and investment with Africa, which now has the world’s youngest population and some of its fastest-growing economies. The West also wants to counter Chinese influence on the continent.
But any dealings with Mr Mugabe would be politically poisonous for Mr Cameron. No senior British minister has met him since 2004, when Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, shook Mr Mugabe’s hand on the sidelines of a United Nations summit. Mr Straw later said that he had failed to recognise Zimbabwe’s leader.