Pressure mounts on Zimbabwe at UN

Western states joined the United Nations in urging action to ensure a fair outcome from Zimbabwe’s elections, but most African countries avoided the issue at a summit of the Security Council and the African Union on Wednesday.

No results have been announced from the March 29 presidential vote in Zimbabwe, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: ”No one thinks, having seen the results of polling stations, that President [Robert] Mugabe has won.

”A stolen election would not be a democratic election at all,” Brown told the summit. ”Let a single clear message go out from here in New York that we … stand solidly behind democracy and human rights for Zimbabwe.”

South Africa, current president of the Security Council, scheduled the summit to discuss cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union. It did not include Zimbabwe on the agenda but Western countries were determined to raise it.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who chaired the summit, has insisted the situation in Zimbabwe can be resolved through the Southern Africa Development Community, which has avoided a tough stand.

Trying to counter accusations at home that he is taking too soft a line on Zimbabwe, Mbeki told reporters after the summit the only way for mediators to resolve the impasse was to keep talking with both Mugabe’s government and the opposition.

”We need to talk at all times with both the ruling party and the opposition,” Mbeki told a news conference after chairing the summit. ”You’ve got to sit and discuss with them.”

The opposition accuses Mugabe of trying to steal the election and says he is preparing a violent crackdown.

Like all but two of about two dozen African speakers, Mbeki did not mention Zimbabwe during the summit itself.

But after the meeting, reporters bombarded him with questions about Zimbabwe, pressing a defensive Mbeki to explain repeatedly why he was pursuing ”quiet diplomacy”.

”I don’t know whatever is meant by quiet diplomacy,” he said. ”What is loud diplomacy?”

One reporter replied that ”loud diplomacy” was the speech by Brown.

Mbeki said: ”Well it’s not diplomacy in that case, it can’t be.”

Asked whether he was taking a soft approach to Zimbabwe because he was blinded by the 84-year-old Mugabe’s reputation as a hero in the fight against white minority rule in Southern Africa, Mbeki dismissed the suggestion.

”I am saying the very fact that we have a mediation process like this on the political side is because we say there are things that have gone wrong,” Mbeki said. ”There are many wrong things with the politics of Zimbabwe.”

He declined to comment on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s proposal that international monitors be sent to Zimbabwe if a new round of presidential elections were held.

”That’s a matter that would have to be put to the government of Zimbabwe,” Mbeki said, adding that any new round would have to free of violence.

Mbeki, who has been heavily criticized at home for his stance on Zimbabwe, said he and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) would insist that Zimbabwe’s opposition have the opportunity to participate in verifying the election results.

He also denied press reports that he had refused to call Zimbabwe’s problem a ”crisis”.

”I never said any such thing,” he said, though he declined to say whether or not he thought the word ”crisis” applied.

UN chief Ban indicated to the gathering he was not satisfied with a soft approach.

”The Zimbabwean authorities and the countries of the region have insisted that these matters are for the region to resolve but the international community continues to watch and wait for decisive action,” Ban said.

Zimbabwe’s economy is in ruins, with 80% unemployment, chronic food shortages and the world’s worst inflation rate of almost 165 000%. Mugabe is widely blamed for the turmoil and critics say the country’s misery will only end when he is replaced.

International observers

One of two African speakers who did mention Zimbabwe was Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, whose country chairs the AU. He praised SADC for doing a ”tremendous job … to ensure that the will of the people of Zimbabwe is respected”.

Senegal’s Foreign Minister, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, said Africans should make better use of preventive diplomacy ”as for example with regard to the situation in Zimbabwe”.

”Unfortunately we as Africans once again answer with a deafening silence which can be heard everywhere,” he said.

”You cannot have a meeting about Africa and not talk about the crisis of the day,” said US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, explaining why he had insisted on raising Zimbabwe.

Like Brown, he said he backed Ban’s call for international observers to be deployed in Zimbabwe if a second round of presidential elections were to be held. He suggested a joint AU-UN mission go to Zimbabwe.

In South Africa, Mbeki’s political rival, Jacob Zuma, who ousted him as head of the ruling African National Congress in December, is gaining influence at his expense. Zuma’s position is supported by international criticism of the delay in announcing Zimbabwe’s election results.

”The region cannot afford a deepening crisis in Zimbabwe. The situation is more worrying now given the reported violence that has erupted,” Zuma said in a speech in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

In his speech to the summit, Mbeki ignored Zimbabwe and focused on a broad need to boost cooperation between the AU and Security Council.

A resolution adopted at the end of the summit called for steps to improve ties between the UN and regional bodies, especially the AU, and for those bodies to boost their peacekeeping activities.

Kikwete highlighted an important issue for Africa — how to finance the peacekeeping burden the AU has been forced to assume in regions like Darfur in western Sudan, where conflict has been raging for five years. Many African speakers complained about the current ad-hoc funding approach.

Khalilzad said the United States opposed using the central UN budget to permanently finance AU-UN peacekeeping operations, although he supported Ban’s plan to appoint a panel to study the problem.

Brown, Khalilzad and Ban also called for more action to ease the crisis in Darfur, where only 9 000 of a projected 26 000 UN-AU peacekeepers are deployed.

International experts estimate about 2,5-million people have been displaced and 200 000 have died in five years of violence in Darfur. Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000. — Reuters

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