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Southern African Leaders to Examine Zimbabwe Crisis in Late-March Mini-Summit

Diplomatic sources say Southern African regional leaders agree and want an election to be held, possibly next year, but with a clear road-map setting out milestones and benchmarks

The Southern African Development Community is expected to hold a long-delayed mini-summit on Zimbabwe at the end of this month, one result of an ongoing regional diplomatic initiative by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, sources said Thursday.

President Rupiah Banda of Zambia, chairman of the troika, will host the meeting.

Mr. Tsvangirai was in Botswana on Thursday for a discussion with President Ian Khama, following meetings with leaders in Zambia, Mozambique and Swaziland.

His next stop was to be South Africa for a meeting with President Jacob Zuma, mediator in Zimbabwe on behalf of SADC. Mr. Tsvangirai is voicing his concern at the mounting crackdown on his Movement for Democratic Change formation and civic organizations, allegedly by elements loyal to President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.

Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters late Wednesday in Maputo, Mozambique, that problems are developing in terms of cohesion in Harare's government of national unity.

"We are hoping the troika, which President [Armando] Guebuza is leading, should be fully briefed," Mr. Tsvangirai said. He said the regional body should be closely involved in laying out a road-map leading to the next elections in Zimbabwe.

Diplomatic sources say regional leaders agree and want an election to be held, possibly next year, but with a clear road-map setting out milestones and benchmarks.

Lindiwe Zulu, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Zuma, told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that Pretoria has been informed by SADC about the troika meeting.

“We do not organize such meetings as it is the prerogative of the SADC secretariat,” Zulu noted. “But we have received communication from SADC that there is a meeting at the end of the month."

A troika mini-summit was called off at the last minute last November after President Banda and Mr. Guebuza failed to arrive in Gaborone, Botswana.

Political analyst Trevor Maisiri said the escalation of tensions in Zimbabwe might make it difficult for regional leaders to unravel the political knot in Harare.

Meanwhile, the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Mr. Tsvangirai has asked the High Court for an order clearing the way for it to hold a major rally over the coming weekend at the Glamis Arena in Harare.

VOA Studio 7 correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported from Harare that, pending relief in court, MDC officials defiantly said the rally would go ahead as planned.