Development Minister Dirk Niebel has arrived in Zimbabwe, making him the first German Cabinet minister to visit the country in 15 years. However, he will not meet with the country’s president, Robert Mugabe.
Prior to leaving Berlin, Niebel stressed that there would be no meeting with Zimbabwe's authoritarian leader, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for the past 32 years.
"I consciously did not schedule a meeting with Mugabe, because such a meeting could be exploited," said Niebel, who arrived in Harare on Saturday. This made him the first member of a German cabinet to visit Zimbabwe since then-Defense Minister Volker Rühe did so in 1997.
Instead, Niebel said he planned to use his four-day visit to encourage what he described as democratic forces in the country.
Niebel also planned to meet with members of Zimbabwe's civil society, with a view to the next elections, scheduled for 2013, which the minister said must be "free, fair and peaceful," and represent a full "restoration of democracy" and the rule of law.
The German government canceled all development projects with Harare in 2002 amid allegations of election rigging and human rights abuses. Since 2009, however, Berlin has supported humanitarian projects in Zimbabwe with a total of more than 100 million euros ($130 million) in aid.
This followed a power-sharing agreement that saw longtime opposition figure Morgan Tsvangirai become prime minister, following the disputed 2008 elections in which he was one of two candidates to challenge Mugabe for the presidency.
pfd/jr (dpa, EPD)