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Southern African Leaders Face Worsening Zimbabwe Crisis

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community were converging in Lusaka, Zambia, on Wednesday for a summit of regional heads of state to begin Thursday and which SADC and other sources said will focus substantially on the Zimbabwe crisis.

From South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki and Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma were expected to attend a session late Wednesday of SADC’s committee on politics, defense and security that officials said would take up political conditions in Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Lesotho.

Mr Mbeki, appointed mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis by SADC, was to brief the panel on his progress. He was to present a full report on the matter to SADC heads of state on Thursday. SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao, who was assigned to examine the economic crisis and look for solutions, was also to brief leaders.

SADC Deputy Executive Secretary Joao Caholo said the Zimbabwe crisis is high on the agenda and that the region will take practical steps to resolve the crisis.

But Zimbabwean Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga insisted that the summit was an ordinary meeting, deploring what he called a campaign by Western critics of the government of President Robert Mugabe to put Harare on the spot.

SADC communications chief Leefa Martin told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that reports on Zimbabwe to be tabled by Mbeki and Salomao would determine the position ultimately taken on Zimbabwe by the summit.

Zambia is assuming SADC’s rotating leadership – significant because President Levy Mwanawasa broke ranks with his African peers in March when he likened Zimbabwe to a "sinking Titanic," saying South Africa's “quiet diplomacy” had been ineffective.

But Zambian Information Minister Mike Mulongoti was cautious, telling Blessing Zulu that Zimbabwe is a sovereign state and will not be the top priority in Lusaka.

Director Neo Simutani of the Center for Policy Dialogue in Lusaka said that not much could be expected from SADC because it lacks the political will to deal firmly with Mr. Mugabe, who is still accorded respect as a regional elder statesman.

As top regional officials prepared their summit, non-governmental organizations from SADC countries met in Lusaka to discuss the way out of the Zimbabwe crisis.

Among Zimbabwean activists offering an overview on the situation were Arnold Tsunga, executive director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Lovemore Matombo, president of the Zimbabwe Congress for Trade Unions, Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly and Netsai Mushonga, who was representing a coalition of Zimbabwean women’s groups.

Tsunga said the consensus of NGO's expressed at the meeting would be put on the summit table for consideration by the heads of state and government.

Some 40 Zimbabwean activists never made it to Lusaka because they were barred from entering Zambia at the Chirundu border post. Zambian authorities suspected the Zimbabweans intended to stage a protest at the summit when they found T-shirts with the slogan “Save Zimbabwe” in the bus that was transporting the activists.

Zambian authorities handed the activists over to the Zimbabwean police. The activists were held at Chirundu police station where they were reportedly being questioned by police and security agents. Lawyers were said to be on their way to represent them.

Coordinator Joy Mambenge of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that the activists wanted to join a SADC citizen's forum.

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