The United Nations Security Council in a summit session with African Union leaders took up the crisis in Zimbabwe on Wednesday in New York, producing some of the strongest statements to date on the nation's post-election crisis from the international community, though the African leadership mainly avoided the issue.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon placed the matter before the summit over the objections of South Africa, which maintained that the Zimbabwean question should be dealt with by the Southern African Development Community regional grouping.
"I am deeply concerned at the uncertainty created by the prolonged non-release of the election results in Zimbabwe," Ban told the high-level gathering. "Absent a transparent solution to this impasse, the situation could deteriorate further with serious implications for the people of Zimbabwe," he warned. The U.N. chief added ominously that "the credibility of the democratic process in Africa could be at stake."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was more blunt. "No one thinks, having seen the results of polling stations, that President (Robert) Mugabe has won" the March 29 elections in Zimbabwe, Brown told the UN-AU summit.
"A stolen election would not be a democratic election at all," Brown said. "Let a single clear message go out from here in New York that we ... stand solidly behind democracy and human rights for Zimbabwe."
The remarks by Ban and Brown were in stark contrast with the assessment offered by South African President Thabo Mbeki on Saturday, when he declared during a visit to Harare on his way to an extraordinary SADC summit that "there is no crisis."
As of Wednesday 18 days had elapsed since the ballots, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had not announced the results of the presidential election. Results of the house election showed the combined opposition claiming a majority, in itself a major setback for Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF, which has ruled continuously since 1980.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he was "gravely concerned about the escalating politically motivated violence perpetrated by security forces and ruling party militias" in rural areas where ZANU-PF held sway until the recent elections.
African leaders in New York avoided the subject. Mbeki, chairing the session, focused on general AU-Security Council cooperation in peacekeeping, Reuters reported.
The sole exception was Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who currently holds the African Union chair. He praised SADC for doing a "tremendous job ... to ensure that the will of the people of Zimbabwe is respected," Reuters reported.
Rejecting the strong statements in the Security Council, Zimbabwean Ambassador to the U.N. Boniface Chidyausiku told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe and maintained that such depictions of the post-election situation reflect a Western desire to discredit Harare.
Political analyst Joy Mabhenge, director of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development said the debate at the U.N. was an important development.
Minutes ahead of Mr. Mbeki's opening of the session, a helicopter hovered over the U.N. headquarters with a banner urging Mbeki to take stronger action.