- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

President Bush has imposed sweeping new economic sanctions on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and 76 other government officials, saying the longtime African leader is attempting to destroy his country's democratic system.
"Over the course of more than two years, the government of Zimbabwe has systematically undermined the nation's democratic institutions, employing violence, intimidation and repressive means, including legislation, to stifle opposition to its rule," Mr. Bush said in an executive order issued Thursday and announced by the White House yesterday.
The move represents a significant expansion of the U.S. pressure on the Mugabe regime and closely tracks a ban approved by the European Union. The Bush administration last spring barred Mr. Mugabe and other top Zimbabwean officials from traveling here and froze their assets in the United States.
The executive order, similar to the ban placed on members of the al Qaeda terrorist network, prohibits any commercial transactions or property deals by the named individuals in the United States or with U.S. citizens here or abroad.
The order gives Secretary of the Treasury John W. Snow the authority to add new names to the list.
Pro-democracy activists hailed the new U.S. move yesterday, saying it targeted those responsible for Zimbabwe's current economic and political woes.
"We wholeheartedly welcome the U.S. government's action against a regime that is committing dreadful human rights abuses against its own people," said Annabel Hughes, executive director of the Washington office of the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust.
"This move just underscores that the crisis in Zimbabwe is man-made and the punishment should be reserved for the men who created it," she said.
Relations between the United States and Zimbabwe plummeted after disputed elections a year ago. Mr. Mugabe was re-elected amid widespread charges of fraud and intimidation of the press and political opponents.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and two associates have been charged with treason by the Mugabe government, and the trial is now under way in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.
Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African country since its independence in 1980, has accused Britain the former colonial power and the United States of interfering in his country's internal affairs.
The Zimbabwean leader appeared to have made some diplomatic headway in recent days, flouting the EU travel ban when he received an invitation from French President Jacques Chirac to attend a Franco-African summit in Paris. Mr. Mugabe made the trip despite a strong protest from the British government.
He then received a warm welcome at a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Malaysia before returning home earlier this week.
Regional powers, notably South Africa, have also refrained from harsh criticism of the Mugabe regime.
Zimbabwe is co-hosting the current World Cricket Cup championships, over the objections of Britain, which forfeited its individual match rather than play in Harare.
The standoff has been exacerbated by a regional famine and a coercive land redistribution program backed by the Zimbabwe government that has forced many of the country's productive white farmers from their land.
Mr. Mugabe defends the land program as a way to provide new opportunities to the country's poor black majority.
But the Bush administration and private aid groups have accused Mr. Mugabe's ruling party, known as the ZANU-PF, of manipulating scarce food stocks to reward supporters and punish foes.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that the new executive order is "aimed not at the people of Zimbabwe but rather at those most responsible for their current plight."
"The United States is acutely aware of the hardships and frustrations which the Zimbabwean people are enduring," Mr. Fleischer said. "The United States is working diligently with its international partners to try to ensure that adequate food supplies are made available to those in need."

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