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Zambia Urges Southern African Leaders To Address Zimbabwe Crisis

Zambian Foreign Affairs Minister Mundia Sikatana has urged the region not to ignore the festering crisis in Zimbabwe, adding that when Zambia assumes the chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community in August, he intends to move the Zimbabwe question up the SADC agenda while engaging the European Union.

Reports in the Lusaka press said Sikatana made his statements to SADC Executive Chairman Thomaz Salomao, in Zambia on Tuesday to prepare the SADC summit next August.“We should not pretend that all is well in Zimbabwe," Sikatana said. "There is a serious problem and ostracizing Zimbabwe will not help solve the problems there.”

Sikatana and Salomao said they would ask the European Union to lighten sanctions on Zimbabwe - just renewed in February for one year after much discussion between EU member states - which they said are crippling the Zimbabwean economy.

SADC member states have been reluctant to confront Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on the country's slide into economic ruin and political paralysis, while South African President Thabo Mbeki has backed away from his position as regional point man on Zimbabwe, handing off to a SADC troika that has given few signs of life.

Some see Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa taking a harder line with Mr. Mugabe than Mbeki did for years with a "quiet diplomacy" that critics called ineffective at best and at its worst provided political cover for Harare. Mr. Mwanawasa recently snubbed Harare's effort to organize a boycott of a Franco-African summit in Cannes after the French government informed Zimbabwe that Mr. Mugabe would not be welcome.

But analyst Brian Raftopoulos, African affairs specialist at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, told Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that SADC is sending mixed signals in pledging to tackle the Zimbabwe crisis on the one hand while on the other urging the EU to lighten sanctions on the Harare elite.

Elsewhere, the Congress of South African Trade Unions announced plans to mobilize regional and international labor organizations to step up pressure on Harare over its alleged violations of human rights. The COSATU leadership has called for protests at all of the Harare government’s establishments in South Africa on April 2 and 4, when the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has called for national strikes.

COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven said Zimbabwe is dragging down the region.

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