Britain laments Zimbabwe vote monitor ban

Britain's envoy to Zimbabwe on Tuesday lamented the Zimbabwean government's plan to prevent international observers from monitoring upcoming election, urging a policy rethink.

"It will be a shame if the government doesn't invite the EU," said British ambassador Deborah Bronnert, acknowledging it is "up to the Zimbabwean government to decide who to invite."

"If Zimbabwe wants to run a free and fair election I think it will be very powerful to have outsiders coming saying this is a free and fair election."

Bronnert called on the government to ensure that the polls are peaceful and free.

"Zimbabweans should be able to exercise their democratic right to vote in the upcoming referendum and elections without fear and without intimidation," she said.

On Monday Zimbabwe 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."

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

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.

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