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Southern African Regional Group Solicits Zimbabwe Election Observers

The Southern African Development Community has invited its member states to send observers to take part in the March 29 elections in Zimbabwe in which President Robert Mugabe will seek re-election against two principal rivals.

An official of the Southern African Development Community said the organization hopes to deploy a large delegation to Zimbabwe. But the official said that the mission might be deployed later than had been hoped due to some logistical challenges.

SADC was instrumental in launching crisis resolution talks between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change last March - though after about 11 months of negotiations under South African mediation the negotiations deadlocked over the election date and constitutional reform.

The SADC Parliamentary Forum, meanwhile, said it is still waiting for an invitation from the Zimbabwean government to observe the elections.

Executive Assistant Roy Ngulube told reporter Carole Gombakomba that although the forum was not invited to monitor the 2005 general elections, it is encouraged by the invitation that has been extended to SADC member states.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network Chairman Noel Kututwa said his group is also encouraged by the SADC move – but cautioned that if the SADC observer team is not in place in good time - as happened in 2005 - it may not be able to monitor balloting properly and credibly report on whether the elections are free and fair.

Kututwa added that the Zimbabwean government may not be keen to see the SADC Parliamentary Forum in place as a corps of observers because its “independent” reports reflected the “true nature of previous elections” in the country.

Britain, meanwhile, called for Zimbabwe to admit international monitors ahead of the March elections, saying conditions for the poll are far from being free and fair.

Taking questions in the House of Commons on the upcoming Zimbabwean elections, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he is urging states in the region to insist that Harare meet international standards for democratic elections, including those promulgated by the Southern African Development Community.

But British Member of Parliament Kate Hoey told reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that President Robert Mugabe, under pressure with the economy imploding, is not likely to want to admit international observers.

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