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India keen to avert split on Zimbabwe

Abuja (Nigeria), Dec. 5: India is keen to play a major role in preventing a division in the Commonwealth over the issue of Zimbabwe’s re-entry to its councils. The issue has seen major African members uniting against Britain, Australia, Canada and other white nations.

The lifting of the suspension on Zimbabwe, imposed in March, 2002, following President Robert Mugabe’s subversion of democracy and human rights,is likely to be the major issue at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), which began here this morning.

India’s external affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha, told the visiting Indian mediapersons here today that India did not want the Commonwealth to be “divided on this issue, and certainly not on ethnic-racial lines”.

It should not become an “Africa-versus-white Anglo-Saxon issue”.

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who is the chairman of the current, four-day summit here, today set up a six-member group, comprising India, Jamaica, South Africa, Mozambique, Australia and Canada, to look into the Zimbabwe issue afresh and report to the Chogm’s plenary tomorrow. Heads of government will then consider the report during their retreat later tomorrow.

A separate group, comprising Nigeria, South Africa and Australia, was set up by Commonwealth leaders earlier this year to discuss the Zimbabwe issue.

But, despite a large number of African countries favouring Zimbabwe’s return to the councils, this group did not go for a change of the current position. Many of these African nations are believed to be working at the current Chogm for a review of the decision to keep Zimbabwe out.

Many African countries do not share the Anglo-Saxon nations’ perceptions of democratic politics and human rights.

Although Obasanjo visited Mugabe recently, he is said to still have reservations about the situation in Zimbabwe. There are, however, some other African nations and many civil liberties groups who want the ban on Mugabe’s “oppressive regime” to stay. Nigeria itself, however, remains embroiled in a controversy over the former Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor, who fled his country last August and took asylum in Nigeria.

Although the Interpol has issued an arrest notice on him, Obasanjo has declined to hand Taylor over.

However, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), in an open letter, have urged Chogm leaders to persuade Obasanjo to hand over Taylor to the UN. According to the CNPP, Taylor was responsible for the murder of some 3,000 Nigerian soldiers who had been in Liberia for peace-keeping missions.

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