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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Diplomatic options over Zimbabwe
Ransacked farm in Chinhoyi
Conflict over land: An election ploy by Mugabe?
By BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

The rising political tensions in Zimbabwe combined with the near-disastrous economic crisis have again raised the question of what the outside world can or should do about the situation.

Voices have been raised in Britain calling for President Robert Mugabe to be excluded from the Commonwealth summit in Brisbane in October, although there is no mechanism to allow that.

There are signs that African governments are increasingly concerned about the crisis in Zimbabwe

Earlier this year, President Mugabe rejected a Commonwealth move to send a delegation to Zimbabwe after foreign ministers expressed concern about intimidation of the judiciary and the media.

But a separate initiative led by the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, is going ahead.

Land conflict

Ministers from several Commonwealth countries, including Britain and Zimbabwe itself, will meet in Abuja in early September to discuss in particular the confrontation over land redistribution.

Mr Mugabe wanted the talks to deal only with this issue and his quarrel with Britain. But British officials say the Nigerian Government has given assurances that the agenda will be more wide-ranging.

The view of the British and others is that Mr Mugabe is merely using the campaign to seize white-owned farmland as his best bet to retain power in next year's presidential election.

The chances of resolving the land question in Abuja must be slim.

Zimbabweans queue for bread
Zimbabwe's economy is in crisis
There are signs that African governments are increasingly concerned about the crisis in Zimbabwe, especially the economic impact on its neighbours.

Those fears were publicly expressed this week at the annual summit of the Southern African Development Community.

Sanctions threat

But talk of Mr Mugabe being excluded from the Commonwealth summit in October is unrealistic.

At present, action to suspend member states from the organisation is taken only after the overthrow of an elected government.

The European Union could impose sanctions. It has warned Zimbabwe that it is under scrutiny, and EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue next month immediately after the Abuja meeting.

But British officials say they are still some way from considering a visa ban on Mr Mugabe and his officials, as was done in the case of Yugoslavia and Burma.

See also:

16 Aug 01 | Africa
Airlift plan for Zimbabwe Britons
14 Aug 01 | Africa
Fleeing Zimbabwe violence
13 Aug 01 | Africa
US attacks Zimbabwe 'abuses'
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