EU makes diamonds-for-democracy offer to Zimbabwe
EU countries have said Zimbabwe can start selling diamonds and gold in Europe if it holds democratic elections.
The deal - between Belgium, the home of the world's largest diamond exchange, and the UK, the former colonial power in Zimbabwe - says the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZDMC) will be taken off the EU's blacklist one month after the vote, expected in July.
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Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders told press in Brussels on Monday (18 February) that ZDMC will get off the hook automatically, unless all 27 EU countries agree "the elections have not been peaceful, transparent, credible or they have reasonable grounds to believe ZMDC has been involved in activities undermining democracy during the election."
He had earlier pushed the UK to get ZDMC off the list immediately.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the diamond offer comes "in recognition of significant political progress in the country."
EU foreign ministers on Monday also took 27 people and one other company off the Zimbabwe register with immediate effect.
Twenty one of the individuals are former regime members or military officers and policemen, some of whom, such as Shuvai Ben Mahofa, former youth minister, or Dani Rangwani, a police chief, are said by the EU to be guilty of campaigns of "terror" or of running "torture camps" in the 2008 elections.
The six others are serving government ministers in minor portfolios, such as tourism or media.
The company, a real estate firm called Divine Homes, belongs to David Chapfika, a former deputy agriculture minister, who is one of the group-of-21.
The rest of the sanctions, on nine firms and 85 people, including President Robert Mugabe, will stay in force until 20 February 2014.
But EU ministers also promised that if a referendum on a new constitution in March goes well, then there might be "an immediate suspension of the majority of all remaining EU targeted restrictive measures against individuals and entities."
For its part, the Zimbabwean government met the news with derision.
"We don't accept any conditional lifting of these illegal sanctions. We don't expect it to be piecemeal, that is nonsensical as the sanctions are illegal anyway," a spokesman for Mugabe's Zanu-PF party told Reuters in Harare.
The EU ministers also agreed to tweak the arms embargo on Syria so that member states can "provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians."
Ashton said EU lawyers will work out the details of which "non-lethal" equipment will be allowed in the coming days.
"There is nothing fudgy or mushy about this," she said.
British foreign minister William Hague, who wanted to go further by allowing EU shipments of arms to rebels, said the decision will make it "more easy" to give "aid and assistance," without specifying what kind of non-lethal equipment he plans to ship.
The ban on arms will be reviewed in three months' time.
But Polish foreign minister Radek Sikroski warned "we really don't want to support radical elements" in the opposition, referring to concerns that weapons could end up in the hands of jihadists in Syria.
Sikorski also dropped a small bombshell on EU relations with former Soviet countries.
Looking forward to an EU summit in Vilnius in November with the so-called Eastern Partnership states - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - he said the six countries might get a promise of one day joining the EU.
"A series of countries was supportive on attaching a declaration [to the Vilnius summit conclusions] referring to Article 49 of the EU treaty on a European perspective for these countries," he said.