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Zim’s woes to dominate SADC meet

Southern African leaders gather for a summit this weekend where Zimbabwe’s crisis features high on the agenda and with protests planned against President Robert Mugabe’s regime.

The summit of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) comes after three days of negotiations in Harare this week aimed at ending Zimbabwe’s political crisis, but with the country’s main rivals failing to reach a deal.

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai attempted to fly to the summit on Thursday with other members of his party’s leadership, but had his passport seized at Harare airport.

His passport was later returned, his spokesperson said, but it was unclear whether Tsvangirai would attend.

”I’m hopeful that the talks will resume,” Tsvangirai said by phone after Thursday’s incident at the airport, adding he had planned to meet with SADC’s security troika. The whole thing was going to be determined at this SADC summit.”

Countries in the region have been divided over how to respond to Mugabe’s widely condemned re-election as president in a June 27 run-off poll condemned internationally as a sham.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, the SADC-appointed mediator, has sought a negotiated settlement to the crisis and was in Harare for this week’s meetings, but he has faced heavy criticism over his quiet diplomacy approach.

He is expected to brief his peers on the state of the Zimbabwe negotiations at the weekend summit.

”What we have to do is encourage the parties to find a solution,” SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao told reporters on Wednesday. ”We believe the difference might be solved as we go … and what we have to do is support the role that the mediator is playing.”

While Mbeki has refused to criticise Mugabe publicly, much to the chagrin of Western powers, others in the region have been more outspoken, and regional trade unions are planning to protest against Mugabe’s participation in the summit.

Botswana has threatened to boycott the summit if Mugabe shows up without a negotiated deal in Zimbabwe, and the country has previously urged its neighbours not to recognise the 84-year-old president’s re-election.

South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said the host country would be ”sad” if Botswana followed through on the threats.

Zambia has also been critical of Mugabe’s regime, but President Levy Mwanawasa remains hospitalised after suffering a stroke in June and will not be among the leaders gathering in Johannesburg this weekend.

Mwanawasa has previously said it was ”scandalous for SADC to remain silent on Zimbabwe”. Zambia is to hand over the chairmanship of SADC to South Africa this weekend.

A SADC observer team gave the March first round of voting in Zimbabwe a largely clean bill of health, but the bloc’s mission said the June run-off ”did not represent the will of the people”.

”The pre-election phase was characterised by politically motivated violence, intimidation and displacements,” Angolan Sports Minister Jose Marcos Barrica, the head of the 400-strong team of observers, had said in a statement.

Zimbabwe’s crisis has overshadowed other issues set to be addressed by Southern African leaders. A regional free trade area for the region is also on the agenda, with countries working toward a common currency by 2018. — Sapa-AFP

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