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Southern African Regional Election Observers Open Zimbabwe Operations

The first team of observers working under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community is setting up in Harare ahead of presidential, parliamentary and local elections set for March 29 amid complaints by the opposition and misgivings by the international community as to whether they can be free and fair.

Some 50 observers flew into Harare on the weekend and have begun accreditation, according to SADC sources. But the controversial decision to bar foreign observers from nations critical of the Harare government, including the United States, Britain and the other members of the European Union, has overshadowing SADC's mission.

Outside of Africa, Harare has invited countries from Asia and Latin America including China, Malaysia, Iran, and Venezuela. Russia is the only European country invited.

Local and international groups have criticized the limited field of observers. The National Constitutional Assembly called on SADC, the African Union and other concerned parties to condemn what it called a government effort to “secure yet another victory through controversial means.”

SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao told reporter Blessing Zulu that his team is eager to deploy across the country and observe the election process.

Elsewhere, the SADC Parliamentary Forum, which Harare barred from observing the 2005 general election and has barred this year, said it is in consultations. Its secretary general, Kasuka Mutukwa, said the forum will issue a statement Saturday.

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