United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has told President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe that the political violence raging in the country must be halted before the presidential run-off election scheduled for June 27, when Mr. Mugabe will face opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, front-runner in the March 29 round.
U.N. Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Okabe said the secretary general, meeting with Mr. Mugabe in Rome on the margins of the U.N. summit on food security, "highlighted the need to stop the violence and to deploy neutral international observers," proposing to send an envoy to Harare to discuss how the U.N. can help in the electoral process.
She said Mr. Mugabe agreed to the dispatch of the envoy, former Eritrean diplomat Haile Menkerios, assistant secretary general for political affairs.*
Political analyst Peter Kagwanja, director of democracy and governance programs at the Human Sciences Research Council in Johannesburg, South Africa, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Mugabe who was shunned in Rome, tried to use the summit to stage a political comeback.
Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Community deployed an advance team ahead of its election observer mission due in the country later this week.
The advance team is led by SADC senior strategic analyst Natangwe Elia Angula of Namibia, who is attached to the SADC directorate for politics, defense and security, and Gilbert Muchauza of Botswana, a senior support services officer.
Muchauza said he and Angula have set up offices at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare and will be joined shortly by more than 300 observers.
But spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change told reporter Blessing Zulu that the presence of the advance team has not reduced the level of violence against officials and supporters of the party.
MDC sources say nine more opposition members have been slain in the past 24 hours, taking the total of deaths among activists over 60. Two of the activists reported slain were burned to death Tuesday night when an MDC office at Jerera Growth Point in Zaka Central constituency, Masvingo province, was firebombed.
Correspondent Irwin Chifera reported on the incident from Harare.
Meanwhile, sources in Mhangura, Mashonaland West, said seven opposition activists were killed in clashes with ZANU-PF militia in the town of Doma on Wednesday.
The sources said the opposition youths were wearing party T-shirts when the militia affiliated with Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF confronted them. The sources said the bodies of the dead activists were taken to Makonde Hospital mortuary.
In Harare, MDC sources said suspected state security agents abducted Jim Holland, husband of senior MDC official and senator Sekai Holland, and three others, including an infant. Holland and the others were released later Wednesday after interrogation, during which he was accused of sponsoring terrorism and harboring fugitives.
Holland told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he was threatened with death if he continued with his opposition activities.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...
* This article has been corrected to remove an erroneous interpretation of the remarks and proposals by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Mr. Mugabe, and to clarify the nature and identity of the U.N. envoy Mr. Ban proposed to send to Harare.