Pressure mounts on Zimbabwe at U.N. council

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.

Published 17 April 2008
|PIC1|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.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 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 percent unemployment, chronic food shortages and the world's worst inflation rate of almost 165,000 percent. 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 the 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 U.S. 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-U.N. 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.

A defensive Mbeki conceded at his news conference there were "things that have gone wrong" in Zimbabwe and said opposition parties must be able to participate in verifying the election results.

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 United Nations 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 U.N. budget to permanently finance AU-U.N. 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 U.N.-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.

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