/ 4 June 2008

SADC to double observers for Zim poll

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is to send up to 400 observers to this month’s run-off poll in Zimbabwe, double the number who oversaw the first round, a top official was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

”We are expecting between 300 and 400 election observers to cover the entire country,” Colonel Thanki Mothae, director of the SADC secretariat on politics, defence and security, told Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper.

”It was felt that we need more observers so we had to increase from the 163 we had in March.”

Mothae told the newspaper that observers from the 14-nation bloc would start arriving in Harare this weekend with the bulk arriving next week.

Zimbabweans go to the polls on June 27 for a run-off vote between veteran President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) after they fought an inconclusive first round in March.

The March 29 elections also saw Mugabe’s ruling party lose its traditional parliamentary majority for the first time since independence 28 years ago.

The aftermath of the elections has been marred by a wave of politically-motivated violence, mostly in rural areas, with the MDC claiming at least 54 of its supporters have been killed and 25 000 displaced in retributive attacks by ruling party militias.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, the region’s chief mediator on Zimbabwe, said in a television interview last week that SADC was increasing the number of observers ”so that they can cover all parts of Zimbabwe” adding that ”they need to go in as early as possible”.

Tsvangirai, who claimed he won the presidential election in March without the need for a run-off, agreed to participate on condition that regional and international observers were allowed in without restrictions.

A SADC mission which oversaw the first round of voting was heavily criticised by the opposition after it gave the vote a largely clean bill of health before any of the results had been announced.

Mugabe snubs Ban Ki-moon
Meanwhile, Mugabe snubbed a request on Tuesday by United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon to send a special envoy to check on security in the build-up to the vote.

Ban made the request at a meeting with Mugabe on the sidelines of an ongoing UN food summit in Rome, ZTV reported, but the Zimbabwean leader told him that concerns about security ahead of the June 27 presidential vote were misplaced.

Mugabe told Ban that he had been overly influenced by Western countries hostile to Zimbabwe and been ”completely blind” to the impact of sanctions imposed by the European Union and United States, the report added.

Violence has been steadily mounting in the approach to the run-off.

Mugabe is usually barred from the European Union as part of a package of sanctions imposed after he allegedly rigged his 2002 re-election.

However he was able to attend the ongoing Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) summit in the Italian capital as it is being staged by the UN.

In his speech at the FAO summit on Tuesday, Mugabe accused the West of trying to ”cripple” Zimbabwe’s economy and ”effect illegal regime change”. – AFP