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EU admonishes Zimbabwe

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union has told Zimbabwe to end political violence and stage a free and fair presidential election in March.

In talks on Friday, EU officials stressed to a Zimbabwean delegation, led by Foreign Minister Stanislaus Mudenge, that it needed to end the occupation of white-owned farms by landless black militants.

The EU also called for independent observers to be allowed to monitor the presidential election -- a request one officials told Reuters was acceptable to Zimbabwe.

Hegel Goutier of Haiti, spokesman for African, Caribbean and Pacific states, said after talks in Brussels: "(Zimbabwe) has no problem accepting independent election observers."

It is not clear whether observers would be allowed into the country before the election, as the EU wants, or merely for the two polling dates

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EU and Zimbawean delegates were taking part in a first round of "consultations" on the situation in Zimbabwe.

An EU official told reporters that Mudenge accused Britain of being excessively harsh on his country.

However, Javier Conde, Spain's EU envoy and the meeting's chairman, insisted all EU nations condemned human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

Conde urged Zimbabwe "to end political violence and (the government's) tolerance of it, organise free and fair elections, ensure protection of freedom of the press and independence of the judiciary, and end the illegal occupation" of white-owned farms, according to the EU official, who asked not to be identified.

Most of Zimbabwe's commercial farmland is owned by whites who make up less than half a percent of the population.

Black pressure groups, who described themselves as veterans of the war of independence, have the tacit support of the government which puts land reform -- the transfer of white-owned farms to landless blacks -- high on its agenda.

Wholesale occupations of white-owned farms have gone unpunished.

President Robert Mugabe's government has also curbed opposition parties and the independent press.

Before the meeting, Mudenge brushed aside reporters' questions about EU sanctions, saying, "Sanctions? What sanctions? We are having a dialogue."

Also present at the meeting were senior officials from Namibia, Malawi and Angola, who support Zimbabwe.

Over the past two years, the EU has cut annual development aid to Zimbabwe from 30 million euros ($27 million) to 5 million euros ($4.5 million) a year because of what it calls the worsening human rights situation.

Officials said 128 million euros ($115 million) for the 2002-2007 period may be at stake unless Mugabe reverses the human rights situation in his country.

Political violence has flared in Zimbabwe as Mugabe's government has cracked down on opposition parties and the independent press.

The government has also accused foreign media of aiding terrorists, the term it uses to describe political opponents. Mugabe has ignored appeals from the EU and others to restore the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

New Zealand and Australia has called for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the 54-nation Commonwealth, while Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa warned that Zimbabwe was sliding toward dictatorship.

Members of the European Parliament have accused the EU of moving too slowly and cautiously against Mugabe, but diplomats say they are following legal procedures and warn that hasty moves could harm the poorest people in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe, 77, has sparked Zimbabwe's biggest crisis since independence from Britain in 1980 with seizures of white-owned farms and attempts to tighten control of the media and opposition in the face of a collapsing economy.

Archbishop Tutu said on Friday he was saddened by events in Zimbabwe. "I am deeply saddened. I am disappointed, I really feel ashamed in many ways because he (Mugabe) used to be such a splendid leader," Tutu told BBC Radio from Cape Town.

South Africa also said on Friday that the Zimbabwe army's warning it would not accept an opposition victory in the presidential elections was "unacceptable."

"If indeed these allegations are true, then indeed that situation is not acceptable to us," presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo said.

"You cannot have a situation where in a sense the security forces are trying to pre-empt an election."


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