Zimbabwe rejects calls for vote monitors

Zimbabwe's government on Monday rebuffed calls for international observers to be allowed to monitor crunch upcoming elections.

"Zimbabwe will not allow countries that imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe to participate as observers," at the election -- slated for July -- Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi was quoted by local radio as saying.

His comment would rule out the participation of European, US or other western observers in monitoring the crucial poll, amid ominous signs of political violence ahead of the vote.

Mumbengegwi instead called for sanctions to be removed "unconditionally and in their totality," according to Spot FM.

The European Union last month eased sanctions against Zimbabwe, but the United States has said it will only end restrictions after more reforms.

Mumbengegwi's comments represent a snap reaction to Swedish international development minister, Gunilla Carlsson, who during a visit to Harare on Monday called for monitors to be admitted.

"We think it is a very good idea to have international observers," she said after meeting Mumbengegwi and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

"It's helpful for outcome of the elections to know that there has been international group standards."

The elections are part of a complex roadmap to put the country back on a stable footing after a series of votes marred by violence, intimidation and economic hardship.

On March 16 Zimbabweans will vote on a new constitution which is expected to underpin fairer elections.

But already a series of arrests and deaths have raised questions about whether supporters of President Robert Mugabe will chose the baton or the ballot box.

Radio stations have been raided, members of non-governmental groups have arrested and the son of an opposition leader has died in a suspected firebomb attack.

Zimbabwe police have found foul play was not involved in a house fire that killed the 12-year-old.

Mugabe, who turned 89 on February 21 has ruled the southern African nation since independence in 1980.