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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 23:46 GMT
Mugabe pledges 'fair' elections
Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe has come in for mounting criticism
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has promised fellow southern African leaders that his country's upcoming presidential elections will be "free and fair".

Communique's calls on Zimbabwe
Respect freedom of speech and association
Allow election monitors
Let journalists cover elections
Investigate political violence

Mr Mugabe made the pledge shortly before the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit issued a closing communique calling on Zimbabwe to take a range of actions to reduce political tension.

The statement said Zimbabwe should respect freedom of speech, allow monitors and international journalists to cover the March elections, and fully investigate all cases of political violence.

The demands were the latest in a barrage of international criticism of Mr Mugabe, whose government has been accused of rushing through restrictive laws to ensure he is re-elected.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt, reporting from the summit in Blantyre, Malawi, described the communique as "amazingly frank", although it did not make clear that Mr Mugabe had accepted the measures.

Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi told a news conference after the meeting that leaders were hopeful Mr Mugabe would keep his promises.

"Let us give Zimbabwe a chance. President Mugabe has assured us that there will be free and fair elections," he said.

New laws

Zimbabwe's parliament passed two controversial security and electoral bills last week, and it is set to approve a punitive new media law on Tuesday.

The bill stipulates, among other restrictions, that all reporters must obtain a one-year licence from a government commission.

Zimbabwe war veterans
The Zimbabwe crisis is already affecting the region's economy

Amnesty International, the human rights pressure group, warned that Zimbabwe's current environment "raises the spectre of such violent repression of political opposition degenerating into civil war".

The group, in a statement issued in South Africa, appealed to Zimbabwe's neighbours to take a stand.

Despite the SADC's calls for actions, Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, accused SADC member states of being hypocritical and aggravating the situation in his country.

Sanctions calls

Mr Tsvangirai told the BBC that South Africa should go it alone and impose direct sanctions.

What is called (for is) quiet diplomacy

South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad

"The threat to undermine the elections by the military, by Mugabe himself, should actually send shock waves to South Africa and say, 'under those circumstances, we are going to cut fuel, we are going to cut transport links'," he said.

"Those kind of measures, even if they are implemented at a lowly level, send the right signals."

South Africa, however, disagrees and believes "quiet diplomacy" and not sanctions should be used.

"We've been working at this for a long time, trying to convince [people] that what is called [for is] quiet diplomacy," Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad was quoted as saying.

The Zimbabwean crisis is already having an economic impact on other countries and there are fears that political instability could spread.

But it is a delicate issue, as SADC members consider Zimbabwe's problems to be an internal affair.

Congo peace efforts

The conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola were also high on the summit agenda.

The assembled leaders of the 14 SADC states were joined by the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda, which both have troops still in the Congo, as well as the two Congo rebel leaders.

Our correspondent says past SADC's peace efforts seem to have had some effect, and participants at the summit were expected to give the peace process another push in the right direction.

President Kabila said on Sunday he hoped progress could be made to resolve the civil war in his country.

At first Mr Kabila had been unhappy about the decision to invite Rwanda and Uganda to the meeting, regarding them as foreign aggressors, but now he concedes their presence might be helpful.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"This was no ringing endorsement for Robert Mugabe"
Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe's opposition
"There is no cohesion amongst SADC leaders"
Spokesman for President Mbeki, Bheki Khumalo
"I think we really have got to keep on talking"
See also:

14 Jan 02 | Africa
SA looks for regional stability
18 Dec 01 | Africa
Neighbours back Mugabe
12 Jan 02 | Africa
Mugabe renews attack on Britain
30 Nov 01 | Business
Zambia's manufacturing malaise
24 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Malawi
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