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Latest update : 2009-09-12

A high-level EU delegation has arrived in Zimbabwe for its first dialogue with President Robert Mugabe (pictured) in seven years. It is hoped that the talks will ease diplomatic tensions and controversy over sanctions.

AFP - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe welcomed a high-level EU delegation "with open arms" on Saturday as Brussels and Harare began their first talks in seven years.

"We welcome you with open arms. We hope our talks will be fruitful with a positive outcome," said Mugabe before entering his meeting with the European Union delegation aimed at easing diplomatic tensions.

His comments come a day after he lashed out at the West for sanctions imposed against him and his allies, saying "we have not invited these bloody whites" who he accused of wanting to "poke their nose into our own affairs"

The meeting at the state house in Harare comes amid a controversy over sanctions which the European bloc is refusing to lift, despite calls by southern African leaders for it do so.

"In these bilateral discussions between the European Union and Zimbabwe, we want to see how the diplomatic tension can be addressed, especially the issue of sanctions, how they can be removed," a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The EU delegation is fresh from a visit to regional heavyweight South Africa, where both parties called for Zimbabwe's political rivals to make their fragile unity government work.

Despite South Africa's lobbying for sanctions to be lifted, the EU stood firm in its demand for greater reforms in Zimbabwe, where accusations of human rights abuses and power struggles hamper a year-old unity accord.

EU Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Karel De Gucht, leading the EU delegation, said Friday the European mission was "not about naming and blaming," after the state-run Herald newspaper quoted a government official saying that the bloc must admit that it was wrong to impose sanctions.

"It's not about excuses and disputes. It is a mission aimed at trying to find common ground so we can make progress with the political agreement and reinvigorate full co-operation with Zimbabwe," he said.

Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a longtime political rival, joined a unity government in February a year after disputed polls pushed Zimbabwe into a deep political and economic crisis.

Date created : 2009-09-12