A report released by the International Crisis Group, an independent think tank based in Brussels, warned that Zimbabwe is “closer than ever to complete collapse" and said regional leaders and the international community should more fully back the effort by South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate a solution to the crisis.
The ICG report said the Southern African Development Community should extend aid that is now "desperately" needed by Zimbabwe and urge Western countries to lift their sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle in exchange for the full cooperation of the ruling ZANU-PF party in the Mbeki-mediated crisis talks.
"If cooperation is not forthcoming," it continues, "Mbeki should candidly and promptly acknowledge failure, and SADC should refuse to endorse any election not a product of the mediation and be prepared to isolate Mugabe and his regime."
The ICG suggested that SADC enlist retired African presidents "to help Mbeki prevail on Mugabe to accept and implement reforms and most critically convince him to retire in 2008." Mr. Mugabe has already said he will run for re-election in 2008.
The report offered a gloomy assessment of the opposition's condition and prospects, describing it as "bitterly divided and...unable to mobilize effective opposition." It said South Africa and SADC "mistrust" the opposition, especially the faction led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai, and would prefer a ZANU-PF-led government of national unity. It saw "little likelihood" the opposition could win next year's elections.
But the overarching theme was the urgency of effect action to end the crisis.
"Six months before scheduled elections," the ICG report stated, "Zimbabwe is closer than ever to complete collapse" with inflation rampant, four out of five Zimbabweans living in poverty and a quarter of the population in exile in the region or elsewhere.
International Crisis Group Africa Program Senior Advisor Andebrhan Giorgis told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the report aimed to highlight the extent of the crisis.
Elsewhere, staff members of the Open Society Initiative in Southern Africa told an audience in Washington that while the South African-brokered crisis negotiations are at center stage, conditions facing ordinary Zimbabweans remain critical.
Reporter Carole Gombakomba covered the event at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...