, LIVINGSTONE, Zambia, Apr 1 – Southern African leaders sharply criticised Zimbabwe\’s political deadlock after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai complained of a pre-election crackdown by President Robert Mugabe.
The security organ of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) closed its summit with a statement slamming the slow progress of Zimbabwe\’s power-sharing deal, known as the Global Political Agreement (GPA), echoing many of the concerns raised by Tsvangirai and tacitly blasting Mugabe.
"The summit recalled past SADC decisions on the implementation of the GPA and noted with disappointment insufficient progress thereof and expressed its impatience in the delay of the implementation of the GPA," said SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao, reading from the summit\’s final communique.
While the statement did not mention either rival by name, it raised many of the concerns voiced by Tsvangirai, who says Mugabe is cracking down on his MDC party ahead of new elections expected later this year.
Tsvangirai, who went on a two-week tour to lobby regional leaders ahead of the summit, accuses Mugabe\’s ZANU-PF party of stepping up a campaign of violence and intimidation against his supporters, including a wave of arrests of top party officials, activists and journalists.
"The summit noted with grave concern the polarisation of the political environment as characterized by, inter alia, resurgence of violence, arrest and intimidation in Zimbabwe," the statement said.
"There must be an immediate end of violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of the GPA."
The communique featured unusually strong language for the 15-nation SADC, which helped negotiate the power-sharing deal more than two years ago but has shown reluctance to step in when the rivals have squabbled over implementing it.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai both attended the summit in the Zambian resort town of Livingstone, near the famed Victoria Falls, and had separate meetings with the participating presidents — South Africa\’s Jacob Zuma, Mozambique\’s Armando Guebuza, Zambia\’s Rupiah Banda and Namibia\’s Hifikepunye Pohamba.
Tsvangirai emerged from his meeting smiling but refused to make a statement to the press, telling journalists to wait for the final communique.
Mugabe left his meeting scowling but said it had gone "very well".
"I have always been happy with the outcome of SADC meetings," he said.
Both men have said they are ready for elections that would put an end to their unlikely unity government, formed in February 2009 in a bid to end rampant violence surrounding disputed 2008 elections and stem an economic crisis that saw hyperinflation hit world-record levels.
While the power-sharing government has succeeded in halting the economy\’s tailspin, mainly by ditching the local currency, Tsvangirai and Mugabe have repeatedly locked horns over implementing the deal.
The agreement envisaged a new constitution within 18 months, followed within six months by fresh elections. But the process, which has been marred by renewed political violence, is running nearly a year behind schedule.
Tsvangirai had asked SADC to create a road map to guide the country to fresh polls, a request the summit appeared to grant with a pledge to help "formulate guidelines that will assist in holding an election that will be peaceful, free and fair".
The summmit also addressed the stand-off in Madagascar, which has been locked in political crisis since former president Marc Ravalomanana was forced from power two years ago by strongman Andry Rajoelina in a military-backed ouster.
The security organ urged the Indian Ocean island\’s feuding political leaders to reject violence, and recommended SADC convene an extraordinary summit to tackle the deadlock.