Amnesty International head will meet Mugabe on Zimbabwe visit

AMNESTY International secretary- general Irene Khan will hold meetings with Zimbabwes senior government officials, including President Robert Mugabe, at the weekend as part of her mission to assess the humanitarian situation in the country.

The visit by the global human rights watchdog will put Zimbabwes appalling human rights record in the spotlight at a time when western countries are refusing to give the country financial aid because of lack of reforms there.

From June 13-18, Khan will lead a high-level mission to Zimbabwe, during which she plans to meet human rights activists, victims of human rights violations and senior government officials, including Mugabe, Amnesty said.

Mugabe was once classified by Amnesty as a prisoner of conscience during his anticolonial struggles in the 1960s and 1970s, but was later condemned for human rights abuses.

Zimbabwe has a long history of gross human rights abuses since 1980. Hundreds of opposition political activists were killed last year during a violent general election.

Amnestys Africa spokeswoman, Aliane Drakopoulos, said yesterday that Khan would also meet Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai some time this month in London. Tsvangirai is in the US as part of a tour that includes a visit to Europe to seek financial aid to rebuild the countrys collapsed economy.

He is scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama on Friday and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tomorrow. He is expected to ask for funds and the lifting of sanctions imposed on Harare in 2001.

The president (Obama) looks forward to welcoming Tsvangirai to the Oval Office on Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement yesterday.

Two weeks ago the US sent senior congressman Donald Payne to Harare to initiate dialogue on economic aid and sanctions.

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said political, social and economic reforms were needed before aid could start or targeted sanctions could be lifted.

There is no indication that the US government is prepared to lift economic sanctions against those in Zimbabwe who have been most responsible for undermining the countrys democracy and destroying its economy, Carson said.

Increasingly substantial aid is dependent upon them making political concessions and fulfilling the agreements that they have already made and in turning the country back towards more democratic rule.

Judging by Tsvangirais meeting with Netherlands Prime Minister Peter Balkenende on Monday, western countries are unlikely to give him money and remove sanctions.

Balkenende told Tsvangirai that without serious reforms, no money would be forthcoming.

Business Day (SA)

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