- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is having the time of his life. As the international community fusses over the dirty tricks he is playing ahead of next month's elections, he is enjoying watching them squirm. But European Union foreign ministers finally voted Monday to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, and to pull their election observers out of the country. The sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and 19 members of his administration prevent them from traveling to EU countries, freeze any assets they have in the 15 countries of the European Union and cut off $110 million in development aid. What took them so long? And why are we not doing the same?

Then there is the problem of Zimbabweans being denied the right to vote. The rejection letters have been streaming in, informing significant numbers of Zimbabweans such as the former prime minister of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Garfield Todd, who was appointed senator by Mr. Mugabe in 1980, that they have renounced their citizenship and thus won't be allowed to vote. The government passed a law last year that those who had the right to a foreign passport were required to give up that right or lose their citizenship. If they didn't act, the government acted for them.

Not to be forgotten are the clerics who were arrested Saturday for holding an "illegal" prayer vigil, the bombings last week of the offices of Zimbabwe's biggest newspaper, the Daily News, and the printing house which produced election materials for the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, whose offices were also burned down last month. In this context, it is not surprising that Mr. Mugabe's main opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, is being accused of trying to kill the president, a charge which he denies. But the accusation could lead to Mr. Tsvangirai being tucked away in a jail cell until after election time.

"Part of the reason why Mugabe doesn't care is because the international community does nothing," Eliphas Mukonoweshuro, a professor from the University of Zimbabwe, said in a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. Most disappointing, he said, was South Africa's refusal to use its special status with the European Union and in the international community to try to stop the human rights abuses. "Smart sanctions won't work as long as South Africa is not involved," he said. "The United States needs to send a message to [South African President Thabo] Mbeki that this is destabilizing the region," he said.

The sooner it does that the better. It is commendable that the European Union has finally agreed to place sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and friends, and the United States should do the same.

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