G8 leaders grill Mbeki on Zimbabwe

South African President Thabo Mbeki was given a fierce grilling by Group of Eight (G8) leaders on Monday at a private meeting at which they told him that they did not believe his mediation efforts in Zimbabwe were succeeding.

They also rejected his suggestion that Robert Mugabe remain as titular head of Zimbabwe.

At what was described as a fiery meeting, United States President George Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, all challenged Mbeki’s assertion that his quiet diplomacy was working, a claim that was also questioned at the same meeting by some African leaders, including the Nigerian President, Umaru Yar’Adua, and John Kufuor, President of Ghana.

But Mbeki warned Britain and the US that Zimbabwe could descend into civil war if they pressed for tougher sanctions against the Mugabe regime.

As the meeting took place it emerged that the tortured and burnt body of a Zimbabwe opposition party worker had been found on a farm belonging to an army colonel, two weeks after the activist was abducted.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the discovery of Joshua Bakacheza’s corpse came amid a renewed intensification of violence as the government attempts to break resistance to recognition of Mugabe’s victory in the widely condemned June 28 election.

At least 20 opposition activists have been murdered since the ballot.

The G8 is expected to issue a statement on Tuesday calling for sanctions unless Mugabe responds to mediation. There is increasing frustration among some Western heads of government that they are asking their electorates to donate $25-billion for Africa by 2010 when some of Africa’s most senior leaders are unwilling to take a stand in favour of democracy and human rights.

Gordon Brown’s spokesperson insisted Britain wanted an outcome in Zimbabwe that reflected the first-round election results, in which opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai gained the highest number of presidential votes and his MDC party won control of the Parliament.

Britain has been accused by Mbeki’s aides of trying to persuade Tsvangirai not to meet him. Mbeki had flown to Harare for an expected meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, but Tsvangirai stayed away, saying that a new mediation mechanism needed to be established to tackle the crisis.

A spokesperson for Japan, the G8 hosts, reported: ”Some African leaders mentioned that we should bear in mind that Mugabe will retire in a few years. Putting pressure on Zimbabwe, including sanctions, might lead to internal conflict. We should be discreet and careful.”

Tearfund, one of the aid groups operating in Zimbabwe, said: ”African leaders attending the talks appeared to have asked for virtually nothing of their G8 counterparts in discussions. The African leaders pointed to the need for a government of national unity, but the people of Zimbabwe want a team of mediators to facilitate a transitional government.”

The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said that some African countries had warned heavy sanctions would lead to a civil war. He added: ”South Africa is pushing for a deal between the president and his opponent, and I agree. Sanctions can have a negative effect.”

A United Nations Security Council resolution drafted by the US and backed by Britain would require the freezing of financial assets of Mugabe and 11 of his officials, and a bar on their travel outside Zimbabwe. —

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