Blair denies pressuring SA over Mugabe
28 November 2013, 14:14
Johannesburg - Former British prime minister Tony Blair on Wednesday
denied putting pressure on South Africa while he was in office to help remove
Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe in a military operation.
Former president Thabo Mbeki claimed in an interview that
Britain had urged it to topple Mugabe when a political and economic crisis
escalated in the late 2000s.
But Blair's spokesperson denied this had happened.
"Tony Blair has long believed that Zimbabwe would be
much better off without Robert Mugabe and always argued for a tougher stance
against him, but he never asked anyone to plan or take part in any such
military intervention," he told AFP in London.
The statement contradicted the account Mbeki gave to
Al-Jazeera news channel.
"Tony Blair... was saying to the chief of the British
armed forces: 'You must work out a military plan so that we can physically
remove Robert Mugabe,'" Mbeki said in the interview published on 23 November.
"We knew that because we had come under the same
pressure, that we need to co-operate in some scheme. It was a regime-change
scheme even to the point of using military force," he added.
Mbeki's spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga told AFP Mbeki stood
by his words.
Mbeki, who led South Africa from 1999 to 2008, was the head
mediator between Mugabe and his arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai after violent
attacks followed disputed polls in 2008.
The pair formed a power-sharing government which ended with
Mugabe's election victory on 31 July this year.
Mbeki had always called for a negotiated solution, resisting
in particular Western interference in African affairs.
"Why does it become a British responsibility to decide
who leads the people of Zimbabwe?" he told Al-Jazeera.
In November 2007 Zimbabwe put its military on high alert
after retired UK army chief Lord Charles Guthrie said London had discussed
invading its former colony during Tony Blair's premiership.
Blair stepped down in 2007.
That year, when Tsvangirai was assaulted and imprisoned, UK
foreign office minister Lord David Triesman told the British parliament's upper
house an invasion was not on the cards.
"I don't think there is a prospect of the invasion of
Zimbabwe and I don't want to encourage the thought," Triesman said in the
House of Lords at the time.
Mugabe, 89, has governed since former Rhodesia won its
independence in 1980.
Relations with Britain soured after he launched
controversial land reforms in 2000, seizing farms from white farmers - the
majority of them of British descent - to give to black farmers.
The two leaders often had strong words for each other.
Mugabe frequently accused Blair of trying to force regime change and once told
him to "keep his pink nose" out of Zimbabwe's internal politics.
- Watch the Al Jazeera interview.