Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said on Thursday it would continue to support targeted sanctions against top officials, despite a warning that the party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, may not be allowed back home from his European tour if he lobbied for further sanctions against President Robert Mugabe.
During talks with the Swedish leadership earlier this week, Tsvangirai reportedly called on the European Union (EU) to extend sanctions against the Harare government. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa was quoted in the official Herald newspaper as telling parliament on Wednesday that Tsvangirai was the government's worst enemy for lobbying for sanctions on his fellow countrymen.
"If Mr Tsvangirai called for sanctions, I don't expect he would want to return to this country. I can't think of any other description other than to say state enemy number one," he added, without elaborating.
MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi rebuffed Chinamasa's threat, pointing out that the European mission was to "update" the international community on Zimbabwe's deepening political crisis.
"Chinamasa's threat is based on misinformation, although the MDC will continue to support targeted sanctions against those elements in the government who are bent on subverting democratic principles. But it must be made clear that the MDC has never, and will never call for the imposition of sanctions against the country as a whole," Themba Nyathi told IRIN.
The EU's targeted sanctions, implemented two years ago, imposed a travel ban on Mugabe and other officials and their spouses, and also froze their assets in Europe.
Tsvangirai has been on a series of foreign trips since he was acquitted of treason last month. Having already met with leaders in South Africa, Mauritius, Botswana, Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria, the opposition leader is expected to hold talks with top EU officials and travel to Norway, Denmark and Britain.
Observers say the diplomatic offensive is a necessary move to raise the regional and international profile of the opposition party.
Political commentator John Makumbe said it was a "particularly pertinent" step for the MDC as the country headed towards parliamentary elections next year.
"These trips are important, as they are aimed at projecting the MDC as a viable alternative to the [ruling] ZANU-PF. It is also an ideal opportunity for the MDC to convince the international community to exert more pressure on Mugabe to undertake electoral reforms," he noted.
The MDC has suspended its participation in all elections until the government fully adheres to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) guidelines on free and fair polls. The SADC protocol guarantees equal access to the state media and freedom of association, but Zimbabwean police have routinely barred MDC rallies from taking place.
The government has also made it clear that EU countries would be excluded from observing the upcoming 2005 poll because of their alleged bias.
Makumbe said that, given the unlikelihood of an EU presence at the next poll, Tsvangirai would push for an observer mission from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regional bloc.
"An ACP election mission will probably be acceptable to both the MDC and ZANU-PF. Unfortunately, despite the warm reception Tsvangirai received from the African leaders during his recent visits, the MDC is still not convinced that a predominantly African election contingent would be independent when it comes to monitoring the vote," Makumbe said.
Until recently the MDC has largely been snubbed by African leaders. But according to Pretoria-based analyst, Chris Maroleng, the tide seems to be changing. Tsvangirai received, according to Themba Nyathi, a positive reception while canvassing support from African leaders for electoral reforms in Zimbabwe.
Maroleng said the apparent about-face of African leaders was due to a "deeper understanding" that Zimbabwe's current problems were "not so much about land as about poor governance".
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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