British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has lost his campaign to prevent Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe from attending a Europe-Africa summit in Portugal in December despite the EU travel ban on the strongman.
Brown is also facing stiff resistance to his demand that the EU appoint a special envoy to deal with the Zimbabwe crisis, sources in Brussels said.
"It's the working assumption that Mugabe will be coming if invited by the Portuguese as expected," said a European Commission official familiar with the preparations for the first Europe-Africa summit in seven years.
While a Portuguese official said no invitation had yet been issued to Mugabe for the Dec. 8 summit, he also cautioned against concluding that the Zimbabwean leader would not be coming to Europe.
EU and Portuguese officials showed exasperation with the British position, shrugging off the British boycott threat.
Brown said last month he would boycott the summit if Mugabe came to Lisbon.
It is not clear whether Britain will stay away altogether or be represented at a lower level at a summit bringing together 53 African and 26 European heads of state or government. British officials said no decision had yet been taken.
Mugabe and 130 of his regime acolytes are barred from traveling to Europe, but African leaders are insisting that Zimbabwe be treated the same as everyone else for the summit. Portugal and other EU countries are unwilling to jeopardize the summit by blocking Mugabe, not least because they are alarmed that they are losing out to China in the contest for African trade and resources.
While Brown is certain to be absent, Britain is pushing to make sure that Mugabe is confronted in Lisbon with vigorous criticism of the appalling human rights situation in Zimbabwe.
"If Zimbabwe sends anyone on the visa ban list, the quid pro quo is that there has to be a discussion on human rights and that could focus on Zimbabwe," a British official said. "The condition for lifting the ban is that human rights is on the agenda."
While a consensus is emerging on a broad discussion of "human rights and good governance" in Africa, there is also resistance to singling out Zimbabwe lest that trigger a Mugabe walkout in Lisbon and a possible summit collapse.
Following Brown's boycott declaration last month, Britain last week asked EU member states to appoint a senior envoy to deal with Zimbabwe.
The proposal is to be discussed by EU foreign ministers in a fortnight, but has received a lukewarm response so far.
EU diplomats hope that Mugabe will come under "peer pressure" from fellow African leaders. They say that hectoring from ex-colonial powers is more likely to trigger a backlash and generate African support for Mugabe.
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