UK says would support Zimbabwe return to Commonwealth

LONDON: Britain would "strongly support" Zimbabwe's return to the Commonwealth, the foreign ministry said on Friday after talks between British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his Zimbabwean counterpart in London.

Sibusiso Moyo was in London for talks on the margins of the 2018 Commonwealth summit aimed at resetting the isolated country's relations with the world after the downfall of president Robert Mugabe.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the meeting ushered in a "new era" in relations between London and Harare and "symbolises Zimbabwe's commitment to engaging meaningfully with the international community".

"The UK would strongly support Zimbabwe's re-entry and a new Zimbabwe that is committed to political and economic reform that works for all its people," it said in a statement.

Launching bitter verbal assaults against Britain, the former colonial ruler, Mugabe angrily pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in 2003 after its membership was suspended over violent and graft-ridden elections the previous year.

Zimbabwe had fractured relations with the West and became increasingly isolated under Mugabe, who held power since independence from Britain in 1980 until his shock ousting last year.

Johnson said that while Zimbabwe had made "impressive progress" under new President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who came to power in November after a brief military intervention, there was a long road ahead to stable democracy and proper rule of law.

"That's why Britain, the Commonwealth and the wider international community will do everything it can in supporting Zimbabwe on its path of reform," he said in a statement.

"July's election will be a bellwether for the direction of a new Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe government must deliver the free and fair elections the people of Zimbabwe deserve and which it has promised."

The Gambia returned to the fold in February under a new president, five years after his predecessor pulled the west African nation out of the voluntary bloc.

The process to rejoin took 12 months. Applicants need to sign up to the 53-country group's charter of values.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said Zimbabwe would have to go through the same formal application process if they wanted to return.

"Zimbabwe has expressed an interest," she told AFP.

"And it must be really good news that Zimbabwe are approaching us at this early stage, with what looks like the start of the conversation.

"We said in 2009 and 2011 that the door was open and that if Zimbabwe would, at some stage in the future, like to return to the Commonwealth, then that opportunity remained." — AFP