THE European Union has denied it was about to lift sanctions against President Robert Mugabe as part of a current policy review by the bloc.
"The EU is reflecting on policy towards Zimbabwe," said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
"But there is no question of lifting sanctions (an asset freeze and travel ban) against Mugabe or anyone involved in continued abuses of human rights, incitement to violence, etc -- that is simply not up for discussion," said Michael Mann.
The denial was prompted by reports in the British press of an imminent lifting of the EU's 2002 sanctions against Mugabe.
In May, the bloc said it was involved in a "re-engagement" process with Zimbabwe after the country's leaders agreed to draft a new constitution to be put to a referendum before elections.
Three ministers from the three main political parties in the coalition government of Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai travelled to Brussels for talks at the time to press the case for a full removal of sanctions.
Ashton's office said in May that "the EU recognised progress to date and encouraged the reform process to continue in the same positive direction, allowing progress towards normalisation of relations."
Zimbabwe was to send a letter setting out its case "which the EU side would consider before the end of July," her office had added.
Foreign ministers from the 27-nation bloc are to hold talks July 23 during which they could touch on Zimbabwe.
Also at stake is the fate of EU aid to Zimbabwe under the Cotonou agreement that was also suspended in 2002.
Mann said "the objective of the EU is to see the Global Political Agreement implemented in full by the government of national unity leading to peaceful and credible elections.
"It is only once such elections take place and their result -- that is, a government reflecting the choice of the people of Zimbabwe -- is respected that the EU would lift sanctions in full. The people of Zimbabwe have to be free to select the government they want."
"This is the context for any strategic review of EU policy," he added.
In February, the EU removed a visa ban and asset freeze on 51 of 150 people targeted by the restrictive measures and 20 of 30 companies under EU sanctions imposed in 2002.
It maintained sanctions against Mugabe, who is 88 and has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980. After failed elections in 2008, he was forced into a power-sharing government with his rival Tsvangirai in a move meant to clear the way to new polls.