Tories demand tough action against Mugabe

Mugabe tightens grip as dictatorship looms

THE Conservatives yesterday piled pressure on the Government for tougher action to prevent President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe eroding democracy.
Michael Ancram, the shadow foreign affairs spokesman, accused ministers of being ineffective and too soft.

In the first Commons Question Time of the year, he asked Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary: “On the day that Mugabe and his henchmen are forcing through legislation to restrain the freedom of the press . . . and at a time when intimidation is institutionalised, murder of opposition members is commonplace, and the democratic process is being dismantled, could he tell us, what on Earth his well-developed policy is achieving?”

Mr Straw, faced with Mr Mugabe’s decision to rush through bills that put new restrictions on the media and give his ruling Zanu(PF) party extra powers to restrict Zimbabwe’s political opposition, told MPs the matter would be discussed by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on Jan 30.

“If the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, Britain will argue for Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM),” he said.

This meeting is expected to be held north of Brisbane, Australia, on March 2-5 and Mr Straw said it would consider Mr Mugabe’s “serious and persistent violation” of the principles of the Commonwealth.

Mr Ancram was not satisfied: “All I hear you talking about is talks in the future and more promises of more talks in the future after that. What we want to hear about is actual effective action.

“Why have you proved so toothless on this? When will you stop faffing about and start putting together an international coalition that can bring real pressure to bear . . . or are you waiting for the Prime Minister to take this away from you as well?”
Mr Straw said he had been ensuring that it was Zimbabwe which was isolated, for the terrible actions of President Mugabe and his henchmen, not Britain. “Our approach has been to internationalise this issue, but to take a firm lead within all the international forums in which we speak.”

Earlier, Michael Moore (Lib Dem, Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) wanted to know what recent discussions he had had with Commonwealth counterparts on Zimbabwe.

Mr Moore asked Mr Straw: “Intimidation, torture and violence against political opponents and the press have increased substantially. In these circumstances, can you tell us exactly what Mugabe has to do before the Commonwealth will introduce sanctions?”

Derek Wyatt (Lab, Sittingbourne and Sheppey) asked whether the Government had done any research to find out whether Mr Mugabe had laundered any funds through the City or Switzerland.

Peter Pike (Lab, Burnley) said the presidential elections in Zimbabwe were three months away. To ensure they were “free and fair” it was essential that international observers were sent there immediately.

Henry Bellingham (C, North West Norfolk) told MPs that opposition politicians in Zimbabwe had been intimidated and arrested on trumped-up charges and Mr Mugabe was determined to ban foreign journalists and independent foreign observers who had hoped to witness the elections.

“All this while the economy is sinking to its knees,” he said.
Mr Bellingham said the British Government should take a lesson from the US Congress which had moved faster than Britain and had taken action to ban despots like Mr Mugabe from foreign travel. Also their overseas bank accounts had been frozen.

“Surely our Government can do the same and it must get off the fence,” he said.
But Mr Straw dismissed allegations that Washington had moved faster than Britain to impose sanctions on President Mugabe. The US Senate had simply given President George Bush the power to talk to other leaders about taking action, he said.

Daily Telegraph (UK)

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