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African Union Summit Skirts Vexed Zimbabwe Question

African Union leaders meeting in summit in Libya concluded their deliberations Tuesday with a call for the United Nations to create two permanent African seats on the Security Council – but made no formal reference to the crisis in Zimbabwe despite intense pressure from Western countries to take it up.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi opened the summit Monday with a warning to fellow AU members against “begging” rich countries for assistance. President Mugabe denounced Great Britain as the instigator of international criticism of his policies.

From Harare, the state-controlled Herald newspaper said Mr. Mugabe had “marathon bilateral talks” with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and South African President Thabo Mbeki, during which, the Herald reported, Mr. Annan “requested Zimbabwe’s support for his proposed U.N. reforms.”

The Herald said it was agreed among the three leaders that human rights interventions should be conducted through the U.N. and not by individual countries – this an apparent reference to Britain and the United States, which have condemned Harare for leaving hundreds of thousands of its citizens homeless.

For insight into why the African Union summit did not formally take up the Zimbabwe crisis, reporter Patience Rusere of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to Patrick Smith, editor of the London-based newsletter Africa Confidential.

Government officials in Harare, meanwhile, continued to ignore an African Union envoy sent to assess the humanitarian impact of Zimbabwe’s controversial slum clearance program. The special rapporteur, Bahame Tom Nyanduga, reached Harare Thursday but as of late Tuesday had still not been accredited by officials who said his sudden arrival breached protocol.

Mr. Nyanduga, a member of the AU Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, was handed a brief by AU Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare, a former Malian president, to look into alleged human rights violations during Operation Murambatsvina, or “Drive Out Rubbish,” which has left thousands of poor Zimbabweans homeless.

Zimbabwean human rights advocates criticized the government’s treatment of Mr. Nyanduga. Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly and a central figure in the newly organized Broad Alliance opposing Mr. Mugabe, said the envoy had the legal right to enter Zimbabwe without prior authorization.

Senior opposition party official Welshman Ncube said that the AU could dispatch an envoy on short notice in an emergency such as that which existed in Zimbabwe.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked program coordinator Irene Petras of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Righters what the African Union charter says about the dispatch of envoys such as Mr. Nyanduga.