Eyewitness: Zimbabwe

November 2, 2001

A Commonwealth mission to Zimbabwe left last week with a fudged conclusion to its effort to resolve the crisis over land reallocation. Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers have taken the first steps towards sanctions against the Mugabe regime for its apparent disregard for legal processes.

Europe seems ready to act over Zimbabwe while the Commonwealth is cautious even on the central issue of reinforcing its own Harare principles.

Last month's Commonwealth summit was postponed in the wake of September 11. Peter Lyon, emeritus reader in Commonwealth history at London University's Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said: "Uncertainties about Zimbabwe will now continue to cause worries at least until presidential elections next March. In the eyes of many, the Commonwealth continues to appear weak in its dealings with Robert Mugabe."

A number of issues were expected to have been resolved at the Brisbane meeting, such as Fiji, Sierra Leone and Gambia. Pakistan's suspension from the Commonwealth would have been discussed, but the Afghanistan crisis has turned Pervez Musharraf's regime into an ally "for all his great and mounting domestic difficulties".

Dr Lyon said: "These problems have not been solved. Stories of massacres perpetrated in Nigeria by its army and others serve as dire reminders that this... is still a long way from constituting a civil society."

He felt that October's meeting should have gone ahead. "The postponement dealt severe financial and morale blows to many Commonwealth bodies. A March 2002 summit will raise questions about the credibility as well as the practicality of the contemporary Commonwealth."

The conference is now expected to take the truncated form of a retreat for heads of government at Coolum, a seaside resort outside Brisbane.

Dr Lyon predicted that Zimbabwe would remain high on the agenda. "The Abuja accord lessened some of the tensionI inherent in President Mugabe's land reallocation policy. But Zimbabwe will remain high on the Commonwealth's agenda of concern, to see whether its terms areI carried out."

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