HARARE, Feb 4– The European Union (EU) says it will lift travel restrictions on President Robert Mugabe for the next year to allow him to perform his role as African Union (AU) chairman.

Reports on Tuesday indicated that the EU, which imposed illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002 because of political differences with Harare and has gradually lifted the embargo since then, would allow President Mugabe to travel within the bloc to fulfil his duties as AU chair.

The Zimbabwean First Family remains on the Western bloc’s embargo after they were lifted for other government officials. Other restrictions including direct financial aid to the government were also lifted late last year.

President Mugabe, who is also the current Chair of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), was last Friday elected AU chairman at the AU summit in Ethiopia much to the chagrin of the Western countries which sought to block his ascendancy to the post.

Britain and the United States were actively involved in a campaign to deny Zimbabwe the chairmanship, a move which was rebuffed by African leaders.

In an acknowledgement of the development, EU spokeswoman Catherine Ray was quoted as confirming the relaxation of the ban when President Mugabe travels “under his African Union chairmanship capacity”.

President Mugabe has said he will strive to ensure the continental body delivers its mandate during his tenure and will not let unfriendly relations between Zimbabwe and the Western world affect his role.

“I don’t know what the west will say or do, that is not my business. My business is to ensure that the decisions that we have arrived at here are implemented and they are all decisions which have to do with the development of Africa..,,” he said, when asked about relations between him and the West at the weekend following his appointment as AU chairman.

Last year, President Mugabe last year failed to travel for the EU-Africa summit held in Belgium because of the sanctions.