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Pressure On Harare Mounts As Southern African Solidarity Crumbles

  • Jonga Kandemiiri

Southern African regional solidarity with the Harare administration of President Robert Mugabe was giving signs of crumbling this week with strikingly candid remarks from Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa who compared Zimbabwe to the Titanic.

His comments carried additional weight given that he is getting ready to assume the chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community in August.

"Quiet diplomacy has failed to help solve the political chaos and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe," Mwanawasa said on Tuesday. "As I speak right now, one SADC country has sunk into such economic difficulties that it may be likened to a sinking Titanic whose passengers are jumping out in a bid to save their lives."

Mr. Mwanawasa said SADC foreign ministers would meet soon to discuss the crisis, which he described as "embarrassing for Africa" during a recent trip to Britain.

Pretoria, often reserved on the subject of Zimbabwe, has also voiced concern saying it would not support Mr. Mugabe if he declared a state of emergency.

Though the European Union and the United States have already imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have urged African leaders to also apply pressure on Mr. Mugabe, to bring an end the crisis.

Researcher Chris Maroleng of South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Mwanawasa’s tough stance is just what is needed to nudge Harare towards constructive reforms.

Meanwhile, the SADC Council of Nongovernmental Organizations condemned what it said was a rise in systematic human rights violations in the country.

The council told the SADC secretariat in a statement that “continued silence and inaction in the face of intensifying suffering and destruction in Zimbabwe” was causing damage to the region. The group further urged SADC to convene a special summit.

Council General Secretary Abie Ditlhake told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that his group hoped the regional body would take action soon.

The United Nations was also increasing its level of involvement. Zimbabwe was slated to be taken up by the Security Council on Thursday in New York.

South Africa, now chairing the Security Council, initially opposed putting Zimbabwe on its agenda. U.N. sources said Security Council members will be briefed by Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Margareth Wahlstrom.

But no resolution is likely to come out of the session, the U.N. sources said.

Political commentator Chido Makunike told reporter Carole Gombakomba that the Security Council move is welcome, though it is not likely to change much.

In Brussels, meanwhile, senior officials in the joint parliamentary assembly uniting African, Caribbean and Pacific lawmakers with their European Union counterparts said they want to send observers to Zimbabwe to see conditions on the ground.

The parliamentary assembly's bureau put out a statement Wednesday condemning the widely reported Zimbabwean police brutality against opposition members.

Zimbabwean member of parliament Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai was beaten by assailants at the Harare airport on his way to Brussels to take part in the assembly. According to sources in Brussels, the vice President of the Tsvangirai MDC faction, Thokozani Khupe, had arrived there to represent Chamisa, who was still recovering from Sunday's attack.

Reporter Patience Rusere spoke with Michael Garler, first vice president of the ACP-EU assembly and vice chairman of the European Parliament’s committee on foreign affairs, who called for new investigations into political violence in Zimbabwe.

Elsewhere, observers of the face-off between Zimbabwe and Western diplomats say Harare is unlikely to carry out its threat to expel envoys who publicly criticize it.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi summoned a number of Western diplomats this week and invited them to keep their opinions to themselves, but experts say expulsion of an envoy is generally considered to be a last-ditch measure

Professor Sulyman Nyang of Howard University in Washington told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye that although governments and diplomats establish ground rules at the beginning of their relationship the lines that are drawn are not always clear.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...

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