Southern African Development Community heads of state attending a development conference in Tokyo on Tuesday are expected to gather on the margins to consider a request by Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai that they deploy election observers in the country late this month rather than in mid-June.
Tsvangirai will face President Robert Mugabe in a presidential run-off election that has been marred by political violence following the March 29 first-round ballot. Tsvangirai claimed an official 47.9% share of the first-round vote vs. Mr. Mugabe's 43.2%.
SADC's current chairman, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, was expected to put Tsvangirai's request before his regional peers at the Tokyo summit.
Sources said that in the run-up to the summit, South African President Thabo Mbeki, SADC’s mediator in Zimbabwe, dispatched his chief delegate for mediation, Sydney Mufamadi, to Harare for discussions with President Mugabe.
Senior officials in Mr. Mugabe’s office confirmed the president met with Mufamadi on Monday, but declined to disclose further details. Spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa of the South African Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed Mr. Mbeki would be in Tokyo, but said he has no information indicating Zimbabwe will be on the agenda.
SADC sources told VOA that regional monitors are not likely to be deployed until mid-June, saying the organization's resources have been drained by the extended crisis and that the upcoming election in Angola must also receive its attention.
Political analyst Peter Kagwanja, director of democracy and governance research at South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that sending peacekeepers might exceed SADC's means.
National Constitutional Assembly Director Earnest Mudzengi said statements by ZANU-PF officials close to Mr. Mugabe that he will accept the outcome of the runoff if he is defeated cannot be believed, and are intended to mollify SADC leaders.
Mudzengi said such statements by Rural Housing Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a key Mugabe strategist, are not matched by developments on the ground as ZANU-PF continues to unleash terror on opposition activists and rural supporters.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...