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Mugabe Faces Peer Pressure at Southern African Summit

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community concluded a summit in the Botswanan capital of Gaborone this week saying the region urgently needs to act on poverty, unemployment and food security in the face of a severe drought.

The Zimbabwe crisis was not official on the SADC summit agenda, but was taken up by the heads of state in a closed session Thursday.

A diplomatic source said President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and President Festus Mogae of Botswana – SADC’S new chairman – pressured President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to address “serious concern” among members of the regional grouping about the country’s crisis.

In that closed-door session, Mr. Mugabe spoke about the slum clearance program that became the object of a United Nations fact-finding mission which produced a harshly critical report last month, the diplomatic source said.

Mr. Mugabe also explained to his peers why he rejected an African Union proposal for former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano to mediate talks between his government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Civil society representatives meeting on the margin of the Gaborone summit said they believed the consultations with Mr. Mugabe came about as a result of their lobbying in recent days. The SADC Council of Nongovernmental Organizations earlier in the week submitted a communiqué to the outgoing chairman of the regional group, Mauritius Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, urging SADC to tackle the Zimbabwe issue.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with human rights lawyer Arnold Tsunga, in touch from Harare with NGO lobbyists in Gaborone.

But Zimbabwe Acting Information Minister Chen Chimutengwende said Mr. Mugabe's response to his peers in Gaborone had nothing to do with NGO pressure.

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