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Zim ready to 'say goodbye' to Commonwealth-Mugabe

29th November 2003

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President Robert Mugabe said yesterday that Zimbabwe was prepared to give up its membership to the Commonwealth if it was not treated as an equal, hinting he was still waiting for an invitation to the 54-member grouping's summit meeting next week.

"If our sovereignty is what we have to lose to be readmitted into the Commonwealth, well, we will say goodbye to the Commonwealth, and perhaps time has now come to say so," Mugabe said in a eulogy at a funeral of a former nationalist, which was broadcast on state radio.

He said the country valued its membership of other organizations such as the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the UN because they treated it as an equal.

"We expect no less (equal status) from the Commonwealth if it merits our membership, if its claim to be a club of equals is to be sustained.

"And I want to see whether that principle of equal membership shall be sustained as we proceed to the next session of CHOGM," Mugabe said.

Early this week Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is hosting next week's CHOGM summit, said Mugabe had not been invited, but there has been no official aknowledgement here of the refusal to invite Zimbabwe.

The line in Zimbabwe's state media earlier this week was that Obasanjo has yet to invite Mugabe.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the 54-member grouping of former British colonies in March last year following a presidential election that some international observer groups said was marred by violence, intimidation and major electoral flaws.

Mugabe's government has countered, saying it is the victim of racists in the "white Commonwealth" - particularly Britain and Australia, who want to see Zimbabwe evicted from the grouping over its controversial land reform programme, which has seen farms seized from white Zimbabweans and given to landless blacks.

"Is it the strength and power of the few whites in the Commonwealth that should dominate the view of the Commonwealth?" Mugabe asked. He singled out Australian Prime Minister John Howard - who sits, along with the heads of Nigeria and South Africa, on a Commonwealth troika on Zimbabwe - as one of those allegedly with a vendetta against Zimbabwe.

"They tell me he's one of those genetically modified because of the criminal ancestry he derives from," Mugabe said, adding that "criminals were banished to Australia and New Zealand by the British".

Mugabe's government was stung by a decision by Howard and Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon, who is from New Zealand, to maintain Zimbabwe's suspension from Commonwealth councils beyond the expiry in March of the year-long punishment.

The Zimbabwe government says that in taking the decision, Howard overruled his troika colleagues, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and South African President Thabo Mbeki, who wanted Zimbabwe readmitted to the Commonwealth fold.

McKinnon, however, has said the Commonwealth has laid down "markers" Zimbabwe has to meet before it can be readmitted to the Commonwealth.

He has said these include an end to harassment of opposition members, the repeal of stringent press laws and involvement of the UN in the country's land reform programme, among other issues. – Sapa-AFP.
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