By Anna Chibamu
European Union (EU) Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen has expressed satisfaction over the Zimbabwe government’s “seriousness” in its reform agenda although worried by continued State victimisation on civil society activists.
This comes as the two parties launched a formal political dialogue process on Wednesday.
Addressing the media soon after the launch of the dialogue process, Olkkonen said EU wanted to have this dialogue for quite some time and was happy that the process was finally underway.
The EU diplomat however mentioned his dissatisfaction over government’s human rights abuses resulting from recent arrests of human rights defenders who are being charged with plotting to subvert a constitutionally elected government as well as the January disturbances which he concluded were a major set-back to in the relationship between Zimbabwe and EU.
“This is an important event re-launching the dialogue process after some time. We think that the government is serious with reform agenda and we have seen positive steps taken in terms of the constitutional alignment and legal proposals are coming up. That testifies of the government moving forward.
“We have had good cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I am happy that we have finally mutually found this opportune moment to launch this dialogue.
“Clearly, there are also incidents like the recent arrests that have been happening on NGO and the human rights activists, which are issues that we discussed in a very frank and open and constructive atmosphere in this meeting. That is the reason why we are having this discussion to tackle a variety of issues,” Olkkonen said.
Ambassador James Manzou, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Permanent Secretary said the dialogue was an important development in the re-engagement process which is a major pillar of Zimbabwe’s foreign policy and defended the arrests’ issue which he asked to be left for courts to decide.
In his speech, Manzou described the dialogue as frank, constructive and cordial and paved the way for enhanced cooperation between the two allies.
The launch of the dialogue was based on Article 8 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that governs the relations between African Caribbean and the Pacific group (ACP) and the EU which seeks to create greater understanding between EU and Zimbabwe.
The EU delegation was supported by the EU member states and ambassadors accredited to Zimbabwe from Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Discussions focused on areas of interest between EU and Zimbabwe which included investment, trade and economic development, human rights, democracy and good governance and rule of law among others.