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EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton hailed ongoing political reforms in Zimbabwe but stopped short of pledging a quick easing of sanctions in talks with a delegation from Harare on Thursday.
The talks were “a constructive step”, her office said, in what the two sides have dubbed a “re-engagement” process since the country's leaders agreed to draft a new constitution to be put to a referendum before elections.
The Zimbabwe team of three ministers from the three main political parties in the coalition government of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai “pressed the case for a full removal of sanctions”, a statement said.
“The EU recognised progress to date and encouraged the reform process to continue in the same positive direction, allowing progress towards normalisation of relations,” it added.
Zimbabwe is to send the European Union a letter setting out its case “which the EU side would consider before the end of July,” the statement said.
Zimbabwe state media last weekend quoted one of the three visiting ministers - Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa from Mugabe's ZANU-PF Äas saying the ministers hoped the talks would lead to the unconditional removal of remaining EU sanctions.
But a senior EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, this week said “progress on political reform has continued in the right direction, but is fairly slow”.
“The talks will give us an opportunity to say what we are looking for and them to say what they are planning,” the official added.
In February, the 27-nation EU removed a visa ban and asset freeze on 51 of 150 people targeted by the restrictive measures and 20 of 30 companies under EU sanctions imposed in 2002.
It maintained sanctions against Mugabe, who is 88 and has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980. After failed elections in 2008, he was forced into a power-sharing government with his rival Tsvangirai in a move meant to clear the way to new polls.
The other two ministers in Brussels are Energy Minister Elton Mangoma from Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and Regional Integration Minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga from an MDC breakaway faction. - Sapa-AFP