/ 28 November 2007

Senegal wants Africa to end Zim-UK row

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said on Wednesday he would push to create a group of African leaders to resolve a stand-off between Zimbabwe and Britain, which has cast a shadow over a European Union-Africa summit.

Wade, critical of South Africa’s efforts to end the political crisis in Zimbabwe, arrived in Harare after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would boycott the planned December 8 to 9 Lisbon summit because President Robert Mugabe would attend.

”I am going to propose the creation of a committee of five heads of state, which will include [South African leader] Thabo Mbeki of course, to try to resolve relations between England and Zimbabwe,” said Wade, whose visit follows one by Mbeki last week.

”I am a facilitator … Nobody has sent me here. It is a personal initiative. I know that Thabo Mbeki has done a lot but the situation has not so far been resolved,” added Wade, who has sparred with Mbeki for leadership on continental issues.

Southern African states have mandated Mbeki to secure a deal on constitutional reform between Mugabe and Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due in March.

Mbeki said after meeting Zimbabwe’s political parties last Thursday that he was ”very confident” that mediation efforts would produce a solution to the country’s crisis.

Western diplomats and South Africa’s opposition say Mbeki is too soft on Mugabe. Mbeki says quiet diplomacy has the best chance of ending Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis.

Mugabe has clashed with Britain and other Western governments over charges of human rights abuses and his controversial seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution among black Zimbabweans.

Previous EU-Africa efforts to meet have foundered over whether to invite Mugabe, reviled by the West but seen by Africa as an independence hero.

An EU source said on Tuesday Portugal would formally notify member states this week that it would waive an EU visa ban to enable Mugabe and his senior aides to travel to the summit.

On Wednesday Wade urged Brown against boycotting the meeting.

”I think Britain should be present in Lisbon. If they don’t come, Britain will be isolated on that question. I will speak to Gordon Brown and ask him to be present at the summit,” he told reporters before going into a meeting with Mugabe.

Mugabe says the West is intent on ousting him as payback for his land reforms, which critics say have been badly implemented, leading to a collapse of agriculture in what was once Africa’s breadbasket.

”Africa must show its solidarity with Zimbabwe,” Wade said, adding that he would try to hold talks with the opposition, which accuses Mugabe of rigging previous elections to hold on to power. — Reuters