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Commonwealth Monitoring Action Group

5. Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): If he will make a statement on the Commonwealth monitoring action group mission to Zimbabwe. [158612]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): The Government of Zimbabwe continue to prevaricate on a date when they can receive the mission of Commonwealth Ministers to convey our concerns. I wrote last week to Don McKinnon, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, to stress that it was now all the more urgent that the mission should go ahead.

Our own concerns are now even greater. The Minister of State with responsibility for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), summoned the Zimbabwean high commissioner to the Foreign Office last week to protest at the war veterans' programme of intimidation and extortion against the business community, with which there is clear official connivance. The targets include businesses from half the countries of the European Union and a transit depot of EU humanitarian aid. I will be raising these attacks with my colleagues this weekend at the informal meeting of Foreign Ministers.

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The worsening situation in Zimbabwe was fairly expressed by the International Bar Association, which warned last week that there was a growing culture of impunity among those who carried out intimidation, and that the rule of law was now in the gravest peril.

Mr. Brazier: For how much longer will the Government continue simply to wring their hands while Mugabe terrorises the Opposition, intimidates the courts, suppresses the press, stirs up racial hatred of the worst sort and even conspires in the murder of his own citizens? The Government supported the immediate suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth Council as soon as a coup took place in that country, even though the Government thus brought to power were much less unpleasant than the present Government in Zimbabwe. Why have not the Government supported Zimbabwe's immediate suspension from the Commonwealth, and economic sanctions?

Mr. Cook: First, I reject economic sanctions. It would be a grave mistake for the Government to apply such a sanction, which would deal a very grave blow to the innocent people of Zimbabwe. They have suffered enough already under the appalling economic mismanagement of President Mugabe. I do not think that it would be wise of Britain to volunteer to allow Mugabe to make us the scapegoat for his errors.

The hon. Gentleman must not underrate the enormous number of steps that the Government have taken already. We have imposed a complete arms embargo on Zimbabwe, halted the provision of Land Rovers to the police and cut aid to Zimbabwe by one third. All that is in complete contrast to the behaviour of the previous Conservative Government, who increased aid to Zimbabwe at the time of the Matabeleland massacres, when 10,000 people were killed.

This Government have also withdrawn the British military advisory training team from Zimbabwe. We have raised the question of Zimbabwe in the Commonwealth, the European Union and the United Nations, and we have received support in all of them. At last month's Question Time, I asked Conservative Members whether they could name one other organisation in the international community to which I could go to seek support. I said that I would seek that support, but I am still awaiting an answer.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The activities of the so-called war veterans, in collusion with the Government of Zimbabwe, clearly affect the whole of southern Africa as well as the country itself, because they deal a blow to investor confidence. Investment in the region is already very scarce, and will suffer further as a result. Has my right hon. Friend seen any evidence of a change of position on the part of the South African President when it comes to leaning on Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe owes South Africa substantially, both politically and in terms of moneys given for energy and other matters.

Mr. Cook: I am pleased to be able to tell my right hon. Friend that I saw the South African Foreign Minister yesterday. We had a full discussion on Zimbabwe. She stressed to me the words used by President Mbeke at one

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of the international investment conferences, when he expressed South Africa's serious and growing concern about the situation in Zimbabwe.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) is right: the crisis in Zimbabwe is especially acute for the people of that country, but it is having a dramatic and serious economic effect on neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Mozambique. We are working with those countries to find out how we can together to achieve a change in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the situation is no longer one in which Mugabe can possibly claim that his campaign is simply against white farmers? In Binga, for example, the local government offices have been closed--as far as one can tell, because 89 per cent. of the province voted for the Movement for Democratic Change. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the public in this country realise that this is no longer a war against the commercial farms, but a war against Mugabe's own people?

Mr. Cook: I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. In the past 10 days, more than 200 companies have been targeted by the war veterans within Zimbabwe, the majority of which, we believe, are Zimbabwean. They include a number that are part-owned by ZANU-PF, which are being invaded by the war veterans. We are not entirely clear whether it was understood that these were ZANU-PF companies, but the veterans were certainly acting against local companies and knew that they were doing so. At present, we are witnessing a concerted campaign of intimidation by President Mugabe, which is intended to silence political opposition and secure his re-election.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Does my right hon. Friend agree that perhaps the time has come to take stronger action than has been considered until now? Although we require no lectures from the Conservative party, is it not clear that the President of Zimbabwe is, like all political scoundrels, using the race card in every possible way to stay in power, and that the campaign that is being waged by the thugs has his every encouragement, which should be stated clearly? That is why some of us believe that the time has come for stronger action.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is right about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe and the President's wish to find a scapegoat. The economic situation in Zimbabwe has resulted in the majority of the population being unemployed, the total absence of foreign exchange, an inability to pay for essential imports such as energy and a very real danger later this year of food shortages. In those circumstances, President Mugabe is looking for someone other than himself to blame. We would not rule out any credible step that would be responsible and would have a realistic chance of changing opinion and policies in Zimbabwe. However, we should also ensure that any step we take is clearly consistent with our message to the people of Zimbabwe: that we are on their side and that we have a common enemy in Mugabe.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): I strongly agree with what the Foreign Secretary just said. It is a regime that

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has declared war on its own people in a cynical attempt to remain in power. It is important that any steps that we take are clearly directed against Mugabe and the wretched henchmen who sustain him in power. Given that he has now made it clear that he is unwilling to treat with the Commonwealth mission, which is attempting to go there to talk to him, is it not absolutely clear that the time for quiet diplomacy has long gone? Is it not intolerable that at this autumn's Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, Mugabe might be allowed the yet further propaganda coup that would follow from his being allowed to strut his stuff there? Is it not now urgent to take steps to begin the process of suspending his wretched regime from the Commonwealth?

Mr. Cook: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's endorsement of what I just said, but I have said it every month for the past 12 months and I have said it not only here, but in Brussels, within the Commonwealth and in New York. That has certainly not been quiet diplomacy, as the right hon. Gentleman claimed.

On the Commonwealth, I warned when we gave our commitment to the mission last month that we would be preparing advice for the Commonwealth Heads of Government when we meet at the end of this year. That is the only body that can take a decision on the suspension of Zimbabwe. If Zimbabwe continues to isolate itself by refusing to deal with the mechanisms of the Commonwealth, the Heads of Government must take that factor into account this coming autumn.

As I said to the right hon. Gentleman at the previous Foreign Office Question Time, one of the most practical differences that we made during the past 12 months was to get Commonwealth observers into the parliamentary election. They were warmly welcomed by the Zimbabwean Opposition for inhibiting the worst excesses of Mugabe's thugs. One consequence of suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth would be that we would be unable to send Commonwealth observers for the presidential elections early next year--the only person in Zimbabwe who would welcome that is President Mugabe himself.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Today is May day. In Zimbabwe, the trade unions are trying to celebrate international workers' day. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deplorable that peaceful trade union activity in Zimbabwe is subject to intimidation and threat by forces supporting the Government of President Mugabe?

Mr. Cook: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The trade union movement is one of the areas where there is strength of criticism of President Mugabe and it has, therefore, attracted violent intimidation in recent weeks. I say to the Government of Zimbabwe, to President Mugabe and to all the other Ministers--especially the Minister of Justice--that we shall all be watching closely the trial of Morgan Tsvangirai when he appears before the court.

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