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Another Southern African Summit On Zimbabwe Seen As Crisis Deepens

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community were expected to gather for another extraordinary summit on the crisis in Zimbabwe amid mounting pressure from the African Union and Western governments for the regional group to act decisively to tamp down political violence and press Harare to conclude presidential voting.

Continued attacks on opposition members in Zimbabwe's rural areas by youth militia of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, liberation war veterans and members of the armed forces are complicating efforts by SADC and other concerned parties to induce Harare to set a firm date for the presidential run-off vote it has called.

But once the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has set a date for the run-off there will be increased pressure for SADC and possibly the African Union to dispatch election observers to the rural areas allegedly being terrorized by Mugabe partisans.

Tsvangirai on Tuesday was meeting with Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili in Maseru in an effort to pressure SADC leaders to ratchet up pressure on Harare to halt what his party and most other observers say is a state-organized campaign of political violence aimed at the opposition and rural voters who backed it on March 29.

MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe on Tuesday that he is concerned that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has yet to set a date for the presidential run-off election.

Nigeria on Monday called for AU observers to be deployed for the run-off to “show solidarity…and help avoid a breakdown of law and order.” Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe told reporters he took up the question with South African President Thabo Mbeki and Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.

Mr. Mbeki has been SADC's mediator in Zimbabwe since March 2007, but SADC itself has stepped up diplomacy through its so-called Zimbabwe troika comprising Tanzania, Angola and Swaziland coordinated by SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salamao.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation of presidential candidate - and first-round frontrunner - Morgan Tsvangirai has repudiated Mr. Mbeki as mediator, accusing him of providing political cover for Mr. Mugabe.

Even if run-off election date is set, the allegedly state-sanctioned violence would make it problematic and possibly extremely dangerous for Tsvangirai to campaign in rural areas beset by youth militia and war veterans brandishing AK-47 assault rifles.

The government itself has been arresting MDC officials including opposition politicians elected to parliament in the March 29 elections that ushered in the present crisis, and opposition officials say Tsvangirai could be subject to arrest upon his return to Zimbabwe from South Africa, where he has been based in recent weeks.

The United States on Monday called on Harare to guarantee Tsvangirai's safety, as VOA's David Gollust reported from the State Department in Washington.

Relations between Harare and Washington took a turn for the worse on Tuesday as police in Mvurwi, Mashonaland Central Province, tried to detain U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee at Mvurwi General Hospital where he and several other diplomats went to visit victims of political violence under treatment there.

McGee and envoys from Britain, the Netherlands, Japan and the European Union had gone to the hospital unannounced intending to tour its wards to interview the victims of local attacks. Armed police showed up and closed the gate to the compound in which the convoy was parked, demanding the envoys accompany them to the police station, witnesses said. After some discussion McGee himself opened the compound gates, waving the convoy through without interference from the police officers.

Correspondent Mark Peter Nthambe of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, traveling with the convoy, told reporter Carole Gombakomba that the diplomats were blocked again by a roadblock on their way back to Harare, leading to a one-hour standoff.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the police actions in Mvurwi and at the roadblock in Glendale could be qualified as harassment.

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