Crisis group calls for regional pressure on Zimbabwe's president
Sep 18, 2007, 10:48 GMT
Harare/Johannesburg - The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) on Tuesday called on southern African leaders to exert pressure on Zimbabwe's longtime leader Robert Mugabe to retire ahead of elections next year.
In a report entitled Zimbabwe: A Regional Solution, the conflict- prevention group said Zimbabwe was now an increasingly desperate country that threatened to destabilize the whole region.
Calling the region Zimbabwe's only real hope, the ICG urged leaders from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to support an initiative being led by South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate between Zimbabwe's political parties ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls due in March.
'SADC has the capacity to reverse a downward spiral that threatens the region's stability, but they must be prepared to support the initiative they have begun and Mbeki's mandate,' ICG senior advisor Andebrhan Giorgis said.
Mbeki was tasked by SADC in March to try to defuse political tensions in his country's northern neighbour after police arrested and beat dozens of opposition members and rights activists in Zimbabwe.
Talks between Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and mediated by South Africa have been taking place under a veil of strict confidentiality.
It is believed the MDC is pushing for major electoral and constitutional reforms before it is willing to participate in any election against Mugabe, who is expected to stand for a fourth term in office.
Since the initial mandate was given to Mbeki, economic conditions in once-prosperous Zimbabwe have rapidly worsened. Inflation is now over 7,600 per cent, and there are acute shortages of basic foods such as meat, bread and milk following a state-ordered price slash in June.
The ICG said regional leaders should enlist a panel of retired African presidents to help Mbeki convince Mugabe to retire.
The crisis group also echoed concerns by some Mugabe opponents that SADC might accept only cosmetic reforms that would serve to entrench the Zimbabwean president, who has been in power since independence in 1980.
'Some SADC leaders continue to support Mugabe, and there is a risk the organisation would accept cosmetic changes that would further entrench the status quo,' the ICG said.
'The wider international community should make detailed preparations to contribute to Zimbabwe's recovery if the mediation succeeds, but also be ready to apply tougher sanctions if it collapses, it added.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur