World News

EU extends list of banned Mugabe allies and companies

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will add over 25 individuals and 36 companies to a list of banned allies of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe Monday because of their links to suspected human rights abuses, EU officials said.

The sanctions list will for the first time include companies registered in the 27-nation European Union, including in Britain, two EU diplomats said, without naming the firms.

The EU officials said the assets of the firms, shell companies that the EU considers support Mugabe’s government, will be frozen.

“They are Zimbabwe-based but registered in Europe, they are used by the regime to channel money out of the country,” an EU diplomat said. “This is a big step regarding the Zimbabwe sanctions.”

The moves, due to be finalised at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, will bring the bloc’s Zimbabwe sanctions list to more than 200 people and 40 companies, by adding government members and relatives of Mugabe allies.

Zimbabwe is in the grip of a deep humanitarian and economic crisis. In the once prosperous southern African country prices double every day and more than 2,000 people have died in a cholera epidemic.

Despite international pressure for a deal, power-sharing talks between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai are deadlocked in a row over cabinet posts.

The EU ministers will also look to step up pressure on Mugabe by urging a probe into whether diamond sales are being used to support his government, a draft obtained by Reuters showed.

The draft urges the Kimberley Process, an international certification scheme set up to ensure diamonds do not fund conflict, “to take action with a view to ensure Zimbabwe’s compliance with its Kimberley obligations.”

Countries can be suspended from the Kimberley certification scheme if they do not abide by its rules.

The World Diamond Council industry body has put Zimbabwe’s production of rough diamonds at 0.4 percent of world output, mostly exported with the Kimberley Process certificate. However in December it raised concern about possible illegal exports “for the personal gain of a few.”

EU sanctions on Zimbabwean officials were initially triggered by the seizure of white-owned farms under Mugabe’s land distribution, and his disputed re-election in 2002.

Critics doubt international sanctions have any effect on Mugabe, who has held a firm grip over power in Zimbabwe since the country’s independence from Britain in 1980. Mugabe accused Western sanctions of having ruined his country’s economy.

South Africa will host a special regional summit Monday to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe.

A September power-sharing deal has stalled amid disputes over who should control key ministries. Regional leaders face mounting international calls for stronger action to end the crisis.

Additional reporting by Bate Felix and Mark John