The European Union has announced that it will remove most sanctions on Zimbabwe if the country holds a peaceful vote on its constitution. The move comes in response to what the bloc sees as positive developments there.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have agreed to lift most sanctions on Zimbabwe if a successful referendum on the country's consitution is held later this year.
They also agreed to resume direct aid to Zimbabwe's government after a 10-year suspension.
In a statement, the ministers said the country had made enough steps "to improve the freedom and prosperity of the Zimbabwean people" to justify lifting a ban on development aid to the government.
The EU applied sanctions to the southern African country in 2002 in response to President Robert Mugabe's crackdown on the opposition and the eviction of white farmers from agricultural land without compensation.
The bloc started to ease sanctions on Zimbabwe last year after progress was made on a power-sharing agreeement between Mugabe's Zanu PF party and the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Power in Zimbabwe is now held by Mugabe as president and his former rival Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister.
Mugabe still in disfavor
EU diplomats have insisted, however, that sanctions on Mugabe himself and his inner circle will remain.
"There is no question of lifting sanctions against Mugabe or anyone involved in continued abuses of human rights, incitement to violence, etc," an EU official said.
Mugabe's party responded angrily to the EU's announcement that the easing of sanctions was contingent on a peaceful constitutional referendum.
"It's all nonsense," Rugare Gumbo, spokesman for the ZANU-PF party, told the AFP news agency.
"We don't think that's the way to do it," he said. "We are saying all sanctions must go."
The planned referendum is meant to pave the way for democratic elections next year.
tj/mkg (dpa, AFP)