Brussels - As Zimbabwe prepares to vote on a new constitution, EU nations are working on a deal to reward Harare by lifting some of the bloc's punishing sanctions against members of the regime, diplomats said this week.
A deal was due to be announced on Monday at talks between the bloc's 27 foreign ministers, but has been held up by a tiff between Britain and Belgium over the latter's demands for ZMDC, a major diamond and gold mining company, to be struck off the Zimbabwe sanctions list.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders talked by telephone on Thursday and efforts were continuing to find a solution to the row at European Union headquarters on Friday, diplomats said.
"Belgium wants to work towards a solution," a Belgian official told AFP.
The problem is that the EU's current sanctions against Zimbabwe - targeting 112 individuals including President Robert Mugabe and 11 companies - expires on Wednesday, some 48 hours after the EU ministers meet.
Failing a deal by Wednesday, the sanctions will simply lapse.
An EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was general agreement for some 20 Zimbabweans sanctioned with an assets freeze and travel ban to be removed from the list.
"One entity is also to be de-listed," said the diplomat, who refused to provide names.
The diplomat, from one of the EU's leading nations, said however that his government "will not accept Belgium's demand for the ZMDC to be de-listed".
The state-run Zimbabwe Diamonds Mining Corporation, which operates five diamond mines in the controversial Marange fields, "is still channelling money to the Zanu-PF", Mugabe's party, the diplomat said.
A number of NGOs, including Global Witness, Human Rights Watch and Avaaz, have made similar claims.
Belgium however says the company has been cleared of rights abuse fears and that ending restrictive measures against it would help revive Zimbabwe's struggling economy while bringing its diamonds to the open market.
The NGOs claim Belgium is acting in the interests of its own diamond business in Antwerp.
The EU meanwhile has pledged to review sanctions against Zimbabwe if it made progress on political reforms.
"The EU considers the holding of a constitutional referendum to be an important milestone in preparation of democratic elections," said a spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The EU "will take full account of previous and ongoing developments in Zimbabwe," he added.
But a final decision is not expected until the ministers meet on Monday, another diplomat told AFP.
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