Britain pledges extra Zim aid

2009-06-22 18:02

London - Britain pledged an extra £5m in aid to Zimbabwe on Monday, hailing progress under a new unity government but urging more reform after landmark talks between leaders of the two countries.

Speaking after talks with Premier Morgan Tsvangirai - the first such meeting with a Zimbabwean leader for over two decades - Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed more help "if the reform programme on the ground gains momentum".

This brings to £60m the transitional aid to Harare this year.

Brown's government long opposed the regime of President Robert Mugabe in the former British colony, which has suffered years of political and economic turmoil and forced many Zimbabweans to flee.

Before the two men joined together in a power-sharing government, Mugabe had often sought to discredit Tsvangirai, his longtime rival, by labelling him a tool of British interests.

"We are prepared to respond when the Zimbabwean government takes action which is in conformity with the long-term ambition," Brown said in a joint news conference with Tsvangirai in his Downing Street office.

'New Zimbabwe'

"We want to see Zimbabwe prosper, we want to see the emergence of a free society and genuine democratic politics."

London is Tsvangirai's final stop on a tour of Europe and the United States to drum up support for the "new Zimbabwe", after his agreement with Mugabe to set up the unity government four months ago.

Britain has sounded a cautious note, saying it will support the inclusive government despite its concerns about Mugabe but that it will not lift sanctions until Harare proves it is on a path to democracy.

"There are great signs of progress: a budget and economic plans are in place; schools are reopening; children are once again filling the classrooms," said Brown.

"As a result of the progress, we will increase our support to help Zimbabwe move from mere survival towards a genuine recovery.

"We are prepared to go further, in offering more transitional support, if the reform programme on the ground gains momentum. I want to see the government taking further rapid steps forward."

Money given via aid groups

Tsvangirai has insisted during his overseas trip that Mugabe's presence in power should not deter foreign governments from helping his country.

But in a sign of continuing caution, Brown said the extra British funds would be given via aid agencies, rather than to the Zimbabwean government directly.

Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe's reform programme is "irreversible" - and defended his power-sharing deal with Mugabe.

"I know that the world is anxious to see signs of progress, especially the fulfillment of the global political agreement," he said.

And he said: "It is unfortunate that those living in Britain, because they don't see Mugabe disappearing... therefore conclude that nothing has changed.

"I want to assure you that that is not the case," he added.

Tsvangirai booed

Tsvangirai was booed and shouted down by exiles during a speech in London on Saturday when he pleaded with them to return home to help rebuild the shattered country.

Aid agency Oxfam said urgent help was needed to repair Zimbabwe's water and sewerage systems to avoid another cholera epidemic which has claimed more than 4 000 lives since it broke out in August 2008.

The agency also said direct funding to Zimbabwe was unlikely to return without "significant progress" on political reform.