Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. File picture: Philimon Bulawayo

Brussels - The European Union is expected this month to lift most of its remaining sanctions against Zimbabwe, the bloc's top diplomat said Tuesday.

“I think we probably are now in the right place to do this, on the basis that if things go badly we can move back again,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told lawmakers at the European Parliament.

The EU imposed sanctions on the southern African country in 2002, in response to a government crackdown on the opposition and the eviction of white farmers from agricultural land.

These have gradually been lifted in recent years, following political improvements, but measures have remained in place against key individuals in President Robert Mugabe's inner circle.

Ashton said Tuesday that she had just given her approval for most of these to be lifted, after holding lengthy discussions with EU member states and with politicians in Zimbabwe.

The move could come on February 20, with sanctions directly targeting Mugabe likely to remain in place.

“The sense is that Zimbabwe's moving ... and that we need to respond,” Ashton said.