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Regional Pressure Mounts On Zimbabwe's Mugabe To Stop Political Violence

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is coming under mounting pressure from his Southern African regional peers to put a stop to political violence that many observers say is state-sponsored ahead of a June 27 presidential run-off election.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, a sometime mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, told his parliament Wednesday that Pretoria is "at one with (the Southern African Development Community) and most of the international community that the incidents of violence and reported disruption of electoral activities of some of the parties are a cause for serious concern and should be addressed with all urgency."

His remarks came on the eve of Security Council briefing on the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. However, South Africa along with Russia is expected to block a wider discussion of the Zimbabwean crisis by the Security Council.

Zambia, meanwhile, granted refugee status to a dozen activists of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, signaling that neighboring countries take the rising violence seriously. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, currently the chairman of the Southern African Development Community, is one of the handful of regional leaders who have indicated they are losing patience with Mr. Mugabe.

Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho called Harare's recent decision to bar the provision of food and other aid by non-governmental organizations “deplorable.”

The African Union's Commission on Human and People’s Rights condemned what it called the “multiplication of assassinations, arbitrary arrests and detentions of political opponents" since a first round of elections on March 29 in which the Zimbabwean opposition claimed a majority in the lower house of parliament.

The run-off ballot will pit President Mugabe against Morgan Tsvangirai, president of the main formation of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Despite such expressions of concern, political violence seems likely to worsen as the ruling ZANU-PF party has announced that in the weeks remaining to the run-off it will deploy war veterans to campaign in areas of Masvingo that back the opposition.

Army sources told VOA that the war veterans will launch a new anti-opposition terror campaign called “Operation Buruka Mugomo Tisangane muVillage,” Shona for “Operation Climb Down the Mountain and Let's Meet in the Village.”

The military sources said the operation is intended to flush out opposition supporters who have fled to the mountains to escape political violence against opposition activists and individuals or communities suspected of supporting the opposition.

Director Frans Viljoen of the Center for Human Rights at Pretoria University, South Africa, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that more observers must be deployed urgently to curb mounting violence.

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