The ZIMBABWE Situation Our thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.

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Mugabe ''happy'' after summit, land policies to stay  
BLANTYRE, Malawi, Jan. 14 — Zimbabwe said on Monday it was sticking to its controversial land reform policies after African leaders urged President Robert Mugabe at a summit to ensure coming elections were fair. 
Mugabe said he was satisfied with the one-day meeting of southern African leaders in Malawi but declined to give details of what had been said behind its closed doors.
       ''All is well that ends well. We are very happy that all the issues were well discussed,'' he told reporters when he emerged from nearly seven hours of talks and headed home.
       Malawian President Bakili Muluzi, opening the summit of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), urged Mugabe to resolve his country's worsening political and economic crisis and ensure the elections in March were fair.
       ''As the date for the presidential elections in Zimbabwe has been announced, we are very hopeful that the elections will be peaceful, free, fair and transparent,'' he said.
       European Union diplomats in Brussels threatened sanctions if Zimbabwe refused to allow foreign observers to monitor the vote and Amnesty International warned Mugabe's repression of his opponents could lead to civil war.
       Zimbabwe's neighbours and Western powers, who say Mugabe is suppressing opposition, have grown increasingly worried that unrest there could hurt the whole region.
       But Harare reiterated its defiance of outside opinion, with Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge saying as Mugabe left the summit that the government would stick by its methods of redistributing land, which have attracted widespread foreign criticism.
       ''Any attempt that Zimbabwe should reverse its land policy is like whistling in a grave yard (a waste of time). It is irreversible because land is what we fought for and it is what is just and what is right,'' he said.
       Seizures of white-owned farms over the last two years by landless blacks have been accompanied by violence and bloodshed.
       Zimbabwe's official Herald newspaper accused Malawi's leader of bowing to pressure from Western powers hostile to Zimbabwe in exchange for increased aid for his own country.
       The SADC has been under pressure from critics to condemn Mugabe, who last week won sweeping security powers from parliament, and even to consider sanctions on Zimbabwe.
       But analysts say the region has little prospect of coaxing Mugabe to give the opposition a fair chance in the voting, which has been set for March 9 and 10. He has run the country since independence from Britain in 1980.
       A tradition of regional African solidarity in the face of Western criticism and a largely uncoordinated response so far has undermined the influence of the SADC group.
       U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a message to the summit saying he hoped the SADC would ''find a way forward for the situation in Zimbabwe.''
       European Union diplomats warned that Zimbabwe faced sanctions if it failed to firmly spell out a commitment it made on Friday to accept international observers and independent media coverage of the vote.
       Human rights pressure group Amnesty International urged SADC to take a tough stand against what it said were state-sponsored killings in Zimbabwe, many related to the farm seizures.
       ''The deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe places in real jeopardy the possibility of free and fair elections... and raises the spectre of such violent repression of political opposition degenerating into civil war,'' it said in a statement.
       Zimbabwe opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, urged South Africa, the biggest regional power, to impose sanctions -- including cutting fuel supplies and transport links. Pretoria reiterated its policy of ''quiet diplomacy'' over the weekend.
       Dismissing the SADC as a whole as hamstrung by ''double standards'' when it came to imposing sanctions, Tsvangirai told the BBC: ''South Africa...will have to go it alone.''
       Last week, the United States condemned Mugabe's government for violence against opponents and the EU expressed doubts that Zimbabwe would act on promises to address EU concerns about limitations on media coverage of the election.
       Some members of the Commonwealth, grouping Britain and its former colonies, have said Zimbabwe should be suspended.
       Some of them accuse Mugabe of failing to implement an internationally brokered deal to halt the violent land seizures by self-styled black veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s civil war.
       Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano said on his arrival in Malawi that he was ''worried'' about an apparent threat from the Zimbabwe army that it would not tolerate an opposition victory.
       Mugabe, 77, had arrived for the summit in Malawi on Saturday in a combative mood, accusing Britain of trying to help Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) into power.
       A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said the British government was reviewing its policy of deporting to Zimbabwe people who had failed in attempts to win asylum in Britain.
       The United Nations refugee agency said last week that the lives of those sent back from Britain could be in danger.
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From ZWNEWS, 14 January
District looted
An entire farming district has become the target of a systematic looting spree by war veterans and Zanu PF supporters. Commercial farms in the Hunyani valley, north-west of Harare, are having their crops stolen by mobs of ruling party supporters using farm vehicles they have commandeered. One farm lost seventy tonnes of wheat destined for delivery to the millers over the weekend, and another mob took forty five tonnes of maize. Cattle and goats have been slaughtered. Farm workers have been severely beaten and evicted and farmers have been driven from farm to farm ahead of the gangs

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Amnesty warns of ''civil war'' in Zimbabwe  
JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 14 — Amnesty International warned on Monday of ''civil war'' in Zimbabwe if opposition to President Robert Mugabe is repressed.
       Mugabe faces re-election in March. 
       ''The deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe places in real jeopardy the possibility of free and fair elections... and raises the spectre of such violent repression of political opposition degenerating into civil war,'' Amnesty said in a statement issued in South Africa.
       The British-based human rights pressure group appealed to Zimbabwe's neighbours, whose leaders were attending a regional summit in Malawi on Monday, to take a tough stand against what it said were state-sponsored killings.
       ''The time has come for SADC to send a strong and consistent message that the situation in Zimbabwe has grown worse, that the Zimbabwean authorities should not allow human rights to be violated with impunity,'' Amnesty in a memorandum to the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).
       Last year, Amnesty said Zimbabwe human rights organisations had reported about 50 politically motivated killings since early 2000, some of them during parliamentary by-elections in 2001.
       Most of these, it said, were carried out by self-styled veterans of the 1970s war against white rule. For the past two years, black war veterans have been occupying white-owned farms with the support of the government.
       In its latest report, Amnesty said over the past few weeks it had received reports of up to 10 people killed in violent repression by state-sponsored militias.
       Last week, Zimbabwe's parliament passed legislation granting Mugabe sweeping security powers ahead of the March 9-10 voting.

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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 17:21 GMT
Zimbabwe asylum rethink signalled
Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace arrive at an international conference in Harare on Saturday
Mugabe's clampdown has worried Blair and Mbeki
The government has signalled a possible change of heart over its determination to send failed asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe amid mounting criticism of the policy.

There are precedents in the past where countries got into a chaotic state and the Home Office has got a policy of not returning

Labour MP Neil Gerrard
Downing Street conceded that a new assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe would be issued "shortly".

Such a move might improve the prospects for political opponents of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe trying to remain in Britain.

The move comes after Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the troubled situation in Zimbabwe with South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Downing Street says both Mr Blair and Mr Mbeki, who spoke by telephone on Saturday, are taking the matter very seriously.


The government has previously dismissed calls for a freeze on deportations by saying individual cases would be examined on "merit".

Amnesty International has always urged that there is the need for extreme caution in deporting Zimbabweans in the present climate

Amnesty International
Neil Gerrard, Labour chairman of the Commons all-party group on refugees, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There are precedents in the past where countries got into a chaotic state and the Home Office has got a policy of not returning.

"I think that is exactly what we should be doing in the case of Zimbabwe."

Responding to fears that opposition supporters faced violence if they were returned to Zimbabwe, The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has asked the government to suspend deportations.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is meeting his Conservative counterpart, Oliver Letwin, to discuss the issue on Monday evening.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Letwin told: "What is going on is astonishing.

"The Home Office is maintaining that being a member of an opposition party in Zimbabwe is not dangerous if they are returned there."

Mr Letwin has expressed concern that British immigration officers have made a number of attempts to deport a man who says he is a member of one of Zimbabwe's opposition parties.

Prime example

Those supporting the application say the man, known only as "Paul", was put on a flight out of the country on Friday even though lawyers had successfully applied for an injunction against his immediate removal.

In the end he was taken off the flight by officials.

The caseworkers who decided his fate were working on the basis that he had not proved "a well-founded fear of persecution".

The Home Office review now under way could change that assessment.

'Extreme caution'

Downing Street's apparent change of heart was welcomed by Amnesty International.

"Amnesty International has always urged that there is the need for extreme caution in deporting Zimbabweans in the present climate," a spokesman told the BBC.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said he had received assurances from the Home Office that there would be no further deportations until the revised assessment had been produced "in the next two days".

The new document would, he hoped, allow the government to suspend deportations until after Zimbabwean elections in March.

"People who fear for their lives and their safety should not go back to a country where clearly democracy is not thriving and is far from well," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.

He called for future country assessments to be compiled by an independent body.

The crisis in Zimbabwe is expected to dominate a summit of southern African leaders being held in Malawi on Monday.

Both Mr Mugabe and Mr Mbeki are attending the meeting about regional peace and stability.

Intimidation fears

The situation in Zimbabwe will also be on the agenda for the South African Development Community at the end of the month.

New laws have given Mr Mugabe powers to suppress opposition and activists fear violence and intimidation in the run-up to elections.

The UK has been at the heart of efforts to pressure Zimbabwe to allow election monitors.

'Adequate information'

Meanwhile human rights groups have stepped up calls for a change in the way the UK's asylum system works.

Alasdair MacKenzie, of pressure group Asylum Aid, said the Home Office did not have "adequate information" on countries to make informed decisions on asylum claims.

Calling for an independent documentation centre for asylum claims, he said the Home Office only updated its assessments every six months and tended to put a positive gloss on events.

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The Times
Briefing: African nations and Zimbabwe

President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi began the one-day meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) today with a call for President Robert Mugabe to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis. He said: "As the date for the presidential elections in Zimbabwe has been announced, we are very hopeful that the elections will be peaceful, free, fair and transparent.”

  • The leaders of the 14 southern African states in the SADC are meeting in Blantyre, Malawi to discuss peace and stability. The SADC has been under pressure from critics to condemn Mr Mugabe and even consider sanctions on Zimbabwe. 
  • South Africa reiterated its policy over the weekend that quiet diplomacy was the best way to deal with the Zimbabwean issue.
  • Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Zimbabwean opposition, says that the SADC is aggravating his country's situation by not speaking loudly enough against Mr Mugabe.
  • The members of SADC are Angola, Botswana, Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • The group was founded in Arusha, Tanzania in 1980 to improve living standards for people in the region and to decrease dependence on South Africa, the regional superpower.
  • It has previously expressed concern about events in Zimbabwe, but it has been hesitant about taking action against Mr Mugabe and even issued a communique of support for him last August. Its member states tread carefully as the SADC constitution requires that states respect each others' sovereignty, and many do not want to be seen to support what Mr Mugabe has called “a white-driven, Western-sponsored agenda”.
  • Zimbabwe, a founding member of the SADC, has taken a key role in the organisation's decisions. It still hosts the SADC food security programme in Harare, which organises seed distribution programmes in the region and manages donations from overseas.
  • As well as discussing the problems in Zimbabwe, today's meeting will consider the conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have both been embroiled in civil war for since they gained independence over twenty-five years ago.
  • The SADC has recently taken a mediating role in the conflict. The leaders meeting in Malawi will be joined by the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda, two countries that still have troops in the Congo.
  • At their meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, in August 2000, the SADC reached a landmark agreement on the sharing of water. Ambitious plans to divert water from the Congo, Orange and Vaal rivers were agreed for countries such as Botswana and Namibia, which suffer from perennial drought.
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Talks bring EU Zimbabwe sanctions closer-diplomats  
BRUSSELS, Jan. 14 — Last week's frosty -- and largely fruitless -- talks with Zimbabwe on political and media freedoms have taken the European Union closer to imposing ''smart sanctions'' on Harare, European diplomats said on Monday. 
The EU gave President Robert Mugabe's government a week to send a letter spelling out how it would act on vague commitments to accept international observers and independent media coverage for a presidential election due on March 9 and 10.
       ''The EU's member states must now look at Friday's meeting and the situation on the ground with a cool head and then make some call on what they want to do,'' one European diplomat said.
       ''But I feel we are probably moving closer to sanctions than we were before Friday.''
       Diplomats said it was too early to assume that the 15 EU foreign ministers would opt for sanctions when they discuss Zimbabwe at a meeting on January 28 in Brussels.
       The action the ministers take, if any, will depend on the contents of the letter which has been sought from Harare and on political developments there.
       But Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said after last week's meeting that the EU had already left it too late to ensure a free and fair election.
       ''The state media is still closed...for campaigning and thousands of our supporters have been disenfranchised and it's too late to get them back on the voters' roll,'' MDC Secretary-General Welshman Ncube told Reuters at the weekend.
       The EU has come under pressure to impose economic sanctions on Zimbabwe and suspend development aid -- worth 128 million euros in the period 2002-2007 -- but fears harming the poor and perhaps destabilising the whole southern Africa region.
       An official at the EU's executive Commission, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said ''smart sanctions'' such as a visa ban or asset freeze on Zimbabwean leaders were the more likely option as it would hurt those in power rather then the poor.
       The United States has threatened travel and investment sanctions against Mugabe and the close supporters of the president, who has run Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980 and has lately moved to tighten his grip.
       Seizures of white-owned farms and government attempts to tighten control of the media and opposition in the face of a collapsing economy have created a crisis.
       Zimbabwe's parliament banned independent monitoring of the poll and denied voting rights to Zimbabweans abroad as well as making criticism of Mugabe a crime. It also gave sweeping new security powers to the government.
       The EU said after its talks with five Zimbabwean ministers on Friday that the country had gone some way towards answering its concerns over the election and independent media coverage.
       But it expressed doubts about whether Harare would follow up its words with ''concrete actions.''
       ''The Zimbabweans were annoyed. They thought they could win us over with words. But they didn't,'' the diplomat said.
       Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge, accusing former colonial ruler Britain of using its influence to ''poison'' its European partners against Zimbabwe, rebuked the EU for its scepticism.
       ''This almost makes our consultations worthless,'' he said after the meeting.
``If you don't believe in us, why do we bother?''
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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 18:29 GMT
Neighbours fear Zimbabwe contagion
A truck carries black workers' possessions away after they have been evicted from a white-owned farm
Zimbabwe's problems are driving its neighbours into trouble too
South Africa's leaders are struggling with a paradox.

Their neighbour, Zimbabwe, is experiencing political turmoil as its leader - Robert Mugabe, president for more than two decades - faces a difficult election in March.

On the political level, the tradition in the region is that internal matters are a country's own affairs.

Added to that, Zimbabwe represents one of the front-line states, those who faced down apartheid-era South Africa on their southern borders and lived to tell the tale.

Trouble spreads

But the old custom of support through thick and thin is starting to break down, because however much Zimbabwe wants to continue defining its problems as domestic ones, their effects are felt throughout the area.

So the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the 14-member grouping now meeting in the Malawian capital Blantyre, finds itself in a tough spot.

After three years of taking land from white farmers and redistributing it, Zimbabwe's economy is a mess.

Inflation tops 100% a year, the Zimbabwean dollar is tumbling - a problem exacerbated by a ludicrously overvalued "official" rate and a thriving parallel market - and its output is collapsing.

The last budget, in October, acknowledged that three quarters of the citizens of what was the breadbasket of the region are now living in poverty, while the economy shrank by as much as 8% in 2001.

Inevitably, when this happens to the second largest economy in the region after South Africa, the knock-on effects are huge.

One hurts, all hurt

The country's dearth of foreign currency means it cannot pay its bills or import goods from its neighbours.

Malawi's foreign minister, Lilian Patel, is under no illusions.

"To begin with, we are landlocked, and that makes us very vulnerable," she said, reflecting on Malawi's status as one of the poorest of SADC's members.

"Anything that happens to our neighbours happens to us."

The long tradition of border-crossing to trade and look for work also plays its part.

Malawians in particular work in large numbers in Zimbabwe, many of them now in the second or third generation.

But while the farm seizures in Zimbabwe take the land from white farmers and give it to government supporters, they also eject the existing workforce, all of whom are black and some of whom are Malawian.

Some return to Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. Others try to go back to Malawi, often with little idea where their relatives and roots are to be found.

And meanwhile, the distortion of cross-border trade and commerce continues. In Malawi, the kwacha is now seriously overvalued against the Zimbabwean dollar, encouraging massive smuggling, damaging exports and hurting local industry.

No end in sight

But beyond the "quiet diplomacy" which has thus far been the rule - and the admittedly exceptional experience of overt criticism which Mr Mugabe has so far had to sit through - there seems little prospect that the Blantyre meeting will produce practical benefits.

Officially, SADC members believe that sanctions - even the smart sanctions advocated by opposition leaders on Mr Mugabe and his cohorts rather than the country as a whole - will hit ordinary Zimbabweans too hard.

Behind the scenes, the real worry is that any further action could trigger a full-scale meltdown - which would not only exacerbate the knock-on effects, but bring millions of economic migrants flooding towards the borders.

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Opposition party office burned down and activists beaten as violence rumbles on in Zimbabwe 
HARARE, Zimbabwe, Jan. 14 — Government-backed militants beat and critically injured several opposition activists in Zimbabwe over the weekend and an opposition party office was burned down, officials said Monday. 
The unrest, which reportedly included police tear gassing an opposition rally and militants from President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF spraying several homes in Harare with gunfire, capped a week marred by violence.
       Last week government-backed militants embarked on a fresh looting campaign of white-owned farms, forcing 23 landowners from their homes. International observers have said Mugabe is using the land issue as a screen to bolster his support and crush dissent ahead of March presidential elections.
       With the tacit support of the government, militants have invaded hundreds of white-owned farms since early 2000. Mugabe has called their actions a justified response to the legacy of inequitable land ownership left by colonial rule.
       The possibility of free elections is considered remote, since Mugabe has cracked down on dissent through legislation and government-sanctioned violence.
       The disintegrating rule of law in the country has also sparked concern in the international community. Western governments have condemned the violence. The United States has imposed sanctions and the European Union is threatening to do the same.
       Late Saturday night, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change office was set fire to by ruling party militants in the town of Kwekwe, 200 miles southwest of the capital Harare, opposition officials said.
       Also on Saturday, a rally held in Buhera, 80 miles south of Harare turned violent when police fired tear gas on the crowd of 5,000 opposition supporters, opposition officials said. Seven opposition supporters were beaten by ruling party militants and admitted to a hospital in Harare and listed in critical care.
       Opposition party lawmaker Roy Bennet who was scheduled to address the crowd said the police told him that opposition party rallies were now illegal.
       In other developments, 34 activists from MDC were arrested over the weekend, the opposition said, but the police had no comment.
       The police did say however, that ruling party activists sprayed several homes in Harare with gunfire over the weekend.
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Business Day
Zim ruling party escalates violence
HARARE  - Militias of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party have stepped up their campaign of violence against opponents ahead of Presidential elections due in eight weeks, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change reported on Sunday.
An "orgy of violence" erupted in the central city of Kwekwe on Friday and continued on Saturday where a mob of militiamen burnt down the MDC's provincial offices, and also one of the pro-democracy party's pickup trucks.
The attack was watched by uniformed policemen "who appeared helpless", said a statement. However, state radio reported Sunday that 22 MDC supporters had been arrested for questioning over an attack on ruling party supporters.
Human rights organisations say police are following orders not to interfere with ZANU(PF) as they wreak havoc on the opposition, and to harass MDC supporters instead.
In the village of Murambinda in the eastern province of Manicaland about 300 km southeast of Harare, seven MDC officials were wounded when militias stormed the opposition party's offices and attacked staff with knives and axes.
At the village Mutoroshanga about 100 km north of Harare, a local MDC official had his home destroyed by a rampaging mob of so- called guerrilla war veterans and ruling party youths.
He was one of several in the district to be made homeless by similar attacks in the district since Wednesday, the statement said.
The report follows a meeting in Brussels between Zimbabwean ministers and a delegation of European Union officials.
Spanish envoy Javier Conde de Saro said  after the meeting that Zimbabwe Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge had failed to allay EU concerns.
On Saturday the Commercial Farmers' Union, whose 4 000 members, nearly all whites, have suffered almost two years of constant violence and harassment by ruling party militias invading their farms, said 23 farmers had been driven off their farms in the first nine days of the year.
One had been forced to flee within five minutes, while another was barricaded in his home.
CFU spokesman Jenni Williams said that the farmers were told, "tell your brothers, (United States president George) Bush and (British prime minister Tony) Blair to remove sanctions, and then you can return home."
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Business Day
SADC's last hope
BHEKI Khumalo, President Thabo Mbeki's spokesman, says the statement by Zimbabwean generals suggesting that they will only accept a Zanu (PF) government is "unacceptable". Now the question is: what should SA and partners in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) do to fully convey their displeasure at this development in Harare?
The remarks from the generals show that President Robert Mugabe expects to lose the March elections, but does not intend to leave office in spite of this. Coming days before today's extraordinary SADC summit in Blantyre today, the statement also shows that Harare has thrown down the gauntlet to its neighbours. After all, it knows that SADC is a toothless bulldog.
Hand-wringing by the international community, distracted by America's war on terrorism, has encouraged Mugabe to resort to even more repressive ways to ensure an electoral victory.
In the 1980s, there was silence from the international community, including Zimbabwe's neighbours, when the Matabeleland massacres took place. Part of the cost of this silence can be seen in today's unfolding crisis.
Ironically, it was, in part, the international isolation of SA's oppressive white rulers that hastened the collapse of apartheid.
There is very little that western nations can do to help ordinary Zimbabweans. The European Union and the US have threatened sanctions. But these measures have very little hope of success.
Chief among the reasons why sanctions may not work is that they lack Africa's support. The other reason is that Mugabe still feels he can outwit the EU. The continued co-operation Stan Mudenge, Mugabe's foreign minister, gives to the EU, as happened on Friday, illustrates this logic.
The last hope, though, lies with the SADC leaders today. Last August in Blantyre, they showed signs of wanting to shore up their credibility when they refused, for the first time, to back Mugabe publicly. This was partly due to SA's insistence.
But the SADC leaders, or at least their ministers, have since gone back to supporting Mugabe's chaotic land reform policies.
Today, they have another opportunity to redeem themselves. As happened during apartheid, the SADC leaders must take the side of ordinary Zimbabweans something they have hitherto shied away from.
It would be naive to expect them to support, let alone impose, sanctions on Harare.
Minimally, they must demand a public pledge from Mugabe that he will allow free political activity before the March poll: independent press and the opposition must be allowed to operate and observers should be invited.
As commanders-in-chief, they must publicly distance their armies from political statements like that of Zimbabwe's military. Crucially, they must stop all cooperation with Zimbabwe's army if it continues to be partisan.
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Blair, Mbeki agree on Zim crisis
London - British Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken to President Thabo Mbeki about the situation in Zimbabwe, and both agreed that its crisis is deepening, an official said on Sunday.
"It is clearly deteriorating in a way that is giving everyone cause for concern," Blair's spokesperson said while describing the two leaders' telephone conversation on Saturday night.
Blair and Mbeki spoke ahead of Monday's meeting in Malawi of southern African leaders, the 14-nation Southern African Development Community. The special one-day summit will discuss Zimbabwe.
In the southern African country, militants have invaded hundreds of white-owned farms since early 2000, with the tacit support of Mugabe, who called their actions a justified response to the legacy of inequitable land ownership left by colonial rule. Most of Zimbabwe's commercial farmland is owned by whites who make up less than half a percent of the population.
Human rights groups and opposition parties say Mugabe is using the land issue as a smoke screen to bolster his support and crush dissent ahead of March presidential elections. Polls indicate Mugabe is in danger of losing power, but the possibility of free elections is considered remote.
Western governments have condemned the violence. America has imposed sanctions, and the European Union has threatened to do the same.
Last week, Zimbabwe's parliament passed legislation granting Mugabe sweeping security powers ahead of the elections.
Members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group are expected to discuss the possibility of taking measures against Mugabe during its meeting in London at the end of the month.
On Saturday, a farmers' organisation in Zimbabwe said government-backed militants recently embarked on a new looting campaign of white-owned farms, forcing 23 landowners from their homes.
In another development, Blair denied claims at home that Britain has been unfairly deporting Zimbabwean asylum seekers to their country, where they face the possibility of being killed or tortured by Mugabe's secret police.
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday, Blair said each case is considered on its merits and that British officials are taking the crisis in Zimbabwe into consideration.
However, Britain's Observer Newspaper reported on Sunday that about 180 Zimbabweans are stranded in British detention centres, including members of its opposition Movement for Democratic Change who are sometimes sent home with no consideration of the risks they face. - Sapa-AP
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Calls for fair Zim poll

Blantyre - The regional summit on conflicts in southern Africa opened on Monday with a call from Malawian President Bakili Muluzi for Zimbabwe to ensure that its upcoming presidential elections are free and fair.
"As the date of the presidential election in Zimbabwe has been announced, we are all very hopeful that the elections will be peaceful, free, fair and transparent," Muluzi said in opening the summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
"We hope that will be so by allowing every Zimbabwean to participate effectively in the elections in the spirit of democratic principles and values," he said.
Muluzi said free and fair elections are not determined only by the conditions on the days of voting, because the entire process in the run-up to balloting is important.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will brief the summit on the situation in his country, Muluzi said.
"I believe that our duty as SADC will be to listen and offer advice where we feel it is necessary to do so," he added.
Muluzi also urged the assembled leaders to consider ways of ending the wars in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which he said were hindering economic development in the region.
Mugabe last week set Zimbabwe's presidential elections for March 9-10, and then muscled through parliament two bills aimed at cracking down on the opposition while bringing out top military leaders to publicly support him.
Tsvangirai dismisses summit as 'useless'
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai urged South Africa on Monday to impose sanctions against Mugabe and dismissed the summit as useless.
"Unfortunately there have been double standards and hypocrisy in the actions taken by the whole body," Tsvangirai told the BBC, when asked if SADC could help resolve the political and economic crisis gripping Zimbabwe.
Analysts said the SADC summit in Malawi was unlikely to act against Mugabe.
Tsvangirai said the only way forward was for South Africa, the region's main diplomatic and economic power, to impose sanctions unilaterally - something it has consistently refused to do in the past.
"South Africa, which is the most influential regional partner for Zimbabwe, I think will have to go it alone," he said, urging it to cut fuel supplies and transport links.
"Those kinds of measures, even if implemented at a low level, send the right signals," he added.
Tsvangirai said he understood South Africa's reluctance to impose sanctions on its neighbour.
"They are in a no-win situation," he said.
"If they initiate sanctions themselves they will be accused of betraying their own brothers. On the other hand they cannot be seen to be engaging Mugabe without any result while the situation deteriorates any further." - Sapa-AFP/Reuters
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Zimbabwean Human Rights Group detained and deported from Malawi ahead of SADC Summit

... in unprecedented step legal SADC visitors get the boot

Four Zimbabwean members of the Zimbabwe Crisis Group, a coalition of about 200 Zimbabwean civil society organisations concerned about the current crisis in Zimbabwe, are awaiting deportation from Blantyre after being arrested by Malawi's police commissioner within hours of arriving for the SADC Summit yesterday.

Brian Kgoro, a lawyer for the group based in Harare, said, "the four appear to have been arrested at the request of the Zimbabwean government. They had informed the Malawian ambassador in Harare of their intended visit. They then invited the High Commissioners to a breakfast meeting on Friday last week in Harare. The High Commissioners from Zambia, Malawi and Botswana came, South Africa, Mozambique and Angola had already sent their commissioners to Blantyre and they could not attend. The group informed the commissioners they would be at the summit, in the corridors distributing pamphlets and available to respond to queries."

The four, Brian Raftopolous, a well known civil rights campaigner in Zimbabwe who chairs the Zimbabwe Crisis Group, Munyaradzi Bidi, Theresa Mugadza, and Kumbirai Hodzi had barely arrived in Blantyre and were resting at their hotel on Sunday evening "when the police commissioner arrived and interrogated and then detained them. They are booked out of Malawi on an 11am SAA flight and will arrive in Harare at 1pm.

"After meeting them at the airport we will have a meeting of them and other Zim Crisis members at their offices," Kgoro said.

The Movement for Democratic Change notes with deep concern these developments. We await to hear the full version of this situation from the Malawian government. It is bad enough that the voices of Zimbabweans have been repressed at home, we hope these bars on freedom of expression for Zimbabweans do not extend to the region.

Brian Kgoro, lawyer (+27)91.266430
Zimbabwe Crisis Group, 96 Central Avenue, Harare (+27)(4)793246/8
Office address: 6 Floor, Harvest House, cor Angwa st and Union Avenue, Harare
Telephone: (+263)(4)781138/9 or (+263)91240023
Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC president
Learnmore Jongwe: Publicity and Info department head (+263)91240029
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