A SENIOR official in President Robert Mugabe's Zanu (PF) party, Jonathan Moyo, has welcomed news that the European Union (EU) may lift decade-long sanctions imposed on the 88-year-old leader and a cabal of senior party bigwigs.

British media last week was awash with reports that the EU was mulling "suspending" the travel and asset freeze that bar Zanu (PF)'s ruling elite from travelling to Europe, in an effort to foster dialogue among the country's political parties ahead of elections.

Mr Moyo, a former cabinet minister, sits on Zanu (PF)'s politburo and is widely seen by political observers as a chief strategist in Mr Mugabe's Zanu (PF) and the unofficial spokesman for hardliners in the party, especially the generals who oppose the extension of the three-year-old coalition government.

"We have it on good authority that the EU plans to announce an official suspension of the evil and illegal sanctions on the 23rd of this month. Why should they have to wait until then? They must remove the sanctions immediately," Mr Moyo told Business Day at the weekend.

"It is evident that the EU has acted swiftly to remove the sanctions because of the legal case that the country's attorney-general brought before them earlier this year, announcing an intention to sue them (the EU) for the impact that the sanctions have had on the livelihood of ordinary Zimbabweans...."

Mr Moyo also implored the US, which has placed Zanu (PF) and companies linked to the party under sanctions since 2001, to take its cue from the EU and remove its sanctions, which he described as even more "dangerous" in comparison to the EU embargo.

But Patrick Chinamasa, the Zanu (PF) justice minister and a negotiator in the unity government, was more cautious of the "success" and said: "We will only comment after the EU issues a formal statement."

An EU official involved in foreign policy, Michael Mann, said at the weekend the issue of sanctions against Mr Mugabe and Zanu (PF) was "simply not up for discussion".

"There is no question of lifting sanctions - asset freezes and travel bans - against Mr Mugabe or anyone involved in continued abuses of human rights and incitement to violence. The EU sanctions would only be lifted after the completion of a reconciliation deal between Mr Mugabe's party and the opposition and once peaceful and credible elections had taken place."

Zanu (PF) has used the EU-imposed sanctions as a defence against conceding to any political reforms in the coalition government with rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.

Political observers say should the EU remove the sanctions, which both the Southern African Development Community and UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay have recommended be lifted, renewed pressure would be brought to bear on Zanu (PF) with expectations that the former ruling party commit to implementing the outstanding political processes required before the country holds elections.

Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, a member of the Zimbabwe delegation that travelled to Brussels in May to seek re-engagement with the EU, said: "For us it is just a matter of terminology because even if they say they are suspending them or they are removing them unconditionally, the message is just the same, Zimbabwe will no longer be under sanctions."

The EU has acted swiftly to remove the sanctions because of the case the attorney-general brought before them earlier this year