Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has welcomed “with open arms” a European Union delegation making its first high-level visit in seven years.

The delegation will also meet Mr Mugabe’s long-time political rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mr Mugabe has appealed for an end to international sanctions imposed after a 2002 disputed presidential poll.

But the EU delegation has described the visit as an attempt to reopen political dialogue with the country.

Conditions

Before going into the talks with the EU team in Harare, Mr Mugabe said: “We welcome you with open arms. We hope our talks will be fruitful with a positive outcome.”

Earlier Mr Mugabe had lashed out at the Western sanctions, accusing whites of wanting to “poke their nose into own our own affairs”.

“We have stood firm and we have refused to let go. Zimbabwe – sanctions or no sanctions, Zimbabwe remains ours,” he told a meeting of his Zanu-PF youth wing in Harare.

The BBC’s Andrew Harding, in Harare, says the EU visit is an exploratory one and no breakthroughs or major announcements are expected.

He says that one year on from the announcement of a key power-sharing deal in Zimbabwe, there remain serious doubts about human rights, the stalling of political reform and the good faith of President Mugabe and his supporters.

Our correspondent says it is expected that the EU delegation will tell Mr Mugabe that not enough has yet been done for the EU to begin a large disbursement of development aid.

Last week, African leaders had called for sanctions against the country to be lifted but the EU’s Development Commissioner Karel De Gucht said the measures had “no impact on the common population”.

“This is not about sanctions,” he said. “It’s not about excuses and disputes. It is about a process that can lead to a normalisation of relations.”

Sweden’s Development Minister Gunilla Carlsson and Mr De Gucht will be in the country until Sunday on the EU’s first official visit since 2002.

Western donors are unwilling to re-start funding until they see clear evidence of reform and an end to human rights violations.

Ahead of the visit, Zimbabwe said it would release some 1,500 prisoners from overcrowded prisons under an amnesty programme.

But Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said last week that the EU was not considering lifting sanctions.

“It is not the restrictions that are creating problems in Zimbabwe, it is the mismanagement [and] not respecting of human rights,” the AFP news agency reported him as saying.

Long-time opposition leader Mr Tsvangirai wants a removal of sanctions to be conditional on how well the power-sharing deal signed a year ago has been implemented.

But last week the leaders of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) rejected that proposal.

South African President Jacob Zuma, who has criticised Mr Mugabe in the past and was expected to side with Mr Tsvangirai, said there should be no conditions placed on the removal of sanctions.

Source: BBC

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