Regional summit seeks to end Zimbabwe crisis

Wed Nov 4, 2009 6:43pm EST

By Charles Mangwiro

MAPUTO (Reuters) – Regional leaders hold a summit in Mozambique on Thursday hoping to prevent the collapse of Zimbabwe’s unity government, threatened by the most severe political standoff since it was formed in February.

Swaziland’s King Mswati III, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza, Zambian President Rupiah Banda and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa hope the talks will persuade Zimbabwean leaders to bury their differences.

The government plunged into another crisis last month after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party boycotted President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF in a dispute over the implementation of their power-sharing deal after a disputed election.

The tension is worrying for Western donors, who are reluctant to pump in billions of dollars to rebuild the country until a stable, democratic government implements political and economic reforms.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai are expected to attend the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit.

Zimbabwe’s government has managed to stabilize an economy ravaged by hyperinflation, but is still severely strained by political disputes likely to keep foreign investors away.

Tsvangirai has accused Mugabe of being a “dishonest and unreliable partner” for refusing to implement power-sharing fully, particularly regarding senior appointments such as the central bank governor and the attorney-general.

The MDC also accuses ZANU-PF of persecuting its officials and holding back media and constitutional reforms which are vital for holding free and fair elections in about two years.

Mugabe says he has met his side of the deal and insists the MDC must campaign for the lifting of Western sanctions against his ZANU-PF, including travel restrictions and a freeze on general financial aid to Zimbabwe.

Instability in the new government was highlighted last month when a U.N. human rights expert was detained at Harare airport by Zimbabwean security agents, even though he said he had been invited by Tsvangirai.

Human Rights Watch urged SADC leaders to press Mugabe’s ZANU-PF to end what it called “ongoing human rights abuses.”

“Recent reports that ZANU-PF continues to arrest and harass human rights and civil society activists should act as a warning to the regional leaders that Zimbabwe may slide back into violence and chaos if they do not take decisive action,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

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