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Death Toll Mounts In Zimbabwe As UN Security Council Mulls Action

Mounting and increasingly deadly post-election political violence in Zimbabwe, alleged to be organized by the governing ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, came under scrutiny Tuesday in the United Nations Security Council which considered appeals for the U.N. to dispatch a special envoy to intervene in the crisis.

The U.N. session came as pro-government youth militia and war veterans stepped up savage attacks on rural residents suspected of supporting the opposition in elections March 29 in which the Movement for Democratic Change claimed a parliamentary majority, ending decades of dominance by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF.

MDC officials said late Tuesday that more than 20 opposition activists have died from injuries sustained in such attacks, which have recently escalated to shootings.

U.N. special rapporteurs Tuesday in Geneva expressed “grave concern” that the violence and torture have been “organized and coordinated," adding that state-controlled media have been airing programs and songs encouraging violence.

Secretary General Tendai Biti of the MDC formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai briefed the U.N. secretariat, saying that Zimbabwe had become a "war zone."

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared at a forum in Geneva on Tuesday that there is a serious humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. U.S. President George Bush urged that the will of Zimbabwe’s voters be respected, calling for increased pressure from neighboring countries on Harare to release the results of the election.

But U.N. officials emphasized that the management of the crisis was currently in the hands of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union, though expressing readiness to send a U.N. envoy should that be found necessary.

"We would be happy to cooperate with SADC and the AU, we would be happy to provide any assistance we could," said U.N. Under Secretary General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe, who briefed the Security Council.

Pascoe said whether a special envoy was sent would depend on the outcome of talks between U.N. chief Ban and Southern African leaders.

France's permanent representative to the U.N., Jean-Maurice Ripert issued a thinly veiled warning to the Harare government, telling reporters that the Security Council session would signal that "we are looking very carefully at what they are doing."

He said the Harare government should be "proclaiming the results" of the election. "The people of Zimbabwe have expressed themselves, it's a victory for democracy in Zimbabwe and Mr. Mugabe should accept that by publishing the results," he said.

European Union foreign ministers called for a de facto worldwide moratorium on arms sales to Zimbabwe. They said the EU should "explore…options for increasing pressure on those who direct and engage in state-sponsored violence and intimidation” following elections.

Mugabe spokesman George Charamba accused the MDC of fomenting violence. He said the Zimbabwean police and army will use “the necessary and appropriate force to ensure that life is respected and property protected."

Human rights lawyer Otto Saki told reporter Blessing Zulu that the Security Council session focusing on Zimbabwe was an important development.

Despite growing international pressure, violence at home in Zimbabwe intensified, sources said. An MDC statement cited "horrifying political violence" which has led to the deaths of 20 activists in the past month, five in the the past two days.

The statement detailed a number of alleged killings. "Tabitha Marume of Makoni West in Manicaland was shot and killed by soldiers at Chiwetu Rest Camp. Percy Muchiwa, a teacher in Guruve was on Monday beaten to death by ZANU-PF supporters in Bakasa area. Tenos Manyimo and Bigboy Zhuwawo, both of Mbire in Mashonaland Central, died on Sunday when they were seriously attacked by ZANU-PF militia."

The statement said polling agent Clemence Dube of Poshayi village in Midlands Province was killed by ZANU-PF militants on Monday.

It said thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, and hundreds have been admitted to hospitals across the country following attacks.

MDC lawmaker Tongai Matutu of Masvingo Urban constituency, who has gone into hiding fearing for his life, told reporter Blessing Zulu that the situation in Masvingo has deteriorated, accusing Harare of arming war veterans in the province.

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