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Lift sanctions on Zimbabwe: Nigeria

Lagos, Feb. 11 (Reuters): Nigeria is calling for the lifting of Commonwealth sanctions on Zimbabwe and its readmission to the organisation, and has the support of South Africa, a senior Nigerian official said today.

He said President Olusegun Obasanjo had made the call in a letter he was sending to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, head of a special committee on Zimbabwe set up by the Commonwealth, a 54-nation grouping of mainly former British colonies.

Obasanjo had the support of South African President Thabo Mbeki, the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

Australia, South Africa and Nigeria form a “troika” mandated to review the Commonwealth’s suspension of Zimbabwe’s membership and sanctions imposed on it last year after President Robert Mugabe was re-elected in a vote his main rival and many Western nations say was rigged.

“He (Obasanjo) is calling for the removal of sanctions, and the end of the suspension more directly,” the presidency official said. “He went to Zimbabwe last week and met all sides. He then talked to Mbeki and they decided the best thing is to remove the sanctions.”

Howard was due to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London tomorrow.

Nigeria and South Africa had earlier effectively killed off the troika by cancelling a key meeting next month, a senior Nigerian official said today.

“They decided between them that the meeting will not hold. And as this was to be the last meeting of the troika, its mandate is effectively expired,” the official said.

Western powers have isolated Mugabe because of the March elections and his controversial policies, including the seizure of many White-owned farms for redistribution to landless Blacks.

The southern African country is gripped by its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980, with nearly half of the nation’s 14 million people facing starvation.

But both South Africa and Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s most powerful and influential nations, have been widely seen as sympathetic to Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest serving rulers.

They advocate a less confrontational approach to Zimbabwe than Australia and Britain in a dispute that has split the Commonwealth roughly on colour lines.

While Obasanjo has mediated between Britain and Zimbabwe since Mugabe adopted his policy of farm seizures, he has privately accused Britain of failing to honour its commitments to help Zimbabwe finance land reform, Nigerian officials say.

Howard wanted Zimbabwe’s suspension extended and had said Harare had done nothing to warrant being readmitted to the body.

Howard said he would write to all the other members of the 54-member Commonwealth to recommend the suspension remains in force until a full meeting of the group in Nigeria in December.

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