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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 03:43 GMT 04:43 UK
Summit disappoints Mugabe critics
By Peter Greste
BBC News, Dar es Salaam

Robert Mugabe
There was no public rebuke for Mr Mugabe
Before the summit of 14 of southern Africa's leaders opened, Zimbabwe's critics had hoped that at the very least Robert Mugabe would get a private dressing-down as well as a few pointed public rebukes.

But when he left smiling for reporters it was clear that his colleagues had done nothing of the sort.

We still do not know what transpired behind the hotel's gilded doors, but the final communiqué gave no sense of urgency or pressure.

What it did offer was South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki, as a facilitator for talks between Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and President Mugabe's government.

The summit chairman, Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete, said that that decision alone was a breakthrough.

The communiqué was also significant for what it left out

He described it as a landmark and to be fair, it is a departure from the deeply-held principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states here.

The final communiqué also called for a study group to look at Zimbabwe's plunging economy and come up with ways to help. It urged the West to end economic sanctions and engage diplomatically.

But the communiqué was also significant for what it left out.

It said nothing about timelines or dates, it gave no benchmarks for progress and said nothing about what might happen if Mr Mbeki's talks fail.

Regional strife

Yet the urgency is real. Zimbabwe's economy has already plunged through the floor, with inflation now over 1,700% and eight out of 10 workers without a job.

The government security services have taken to beating opposition supporters and accusing MDC activists of fire-bombing police stations and preparing for guerrilla war.

In that environment it is hard to see what middle ground there might be for Mr Mbeki's negotiations, but it might all be academic if he does not move fast.

Few people believe Zimbabwe is going to plunge into civil war next week or next month, but it is heading in that direction.

Without urgent and dramatic action, it is not just Zimbabwe that is in danger of slipping into conflict.

The country's neighbours, South Africa chief amongst them, would probably have to deal with a flood of impoverished and desperate refugees, and any violence could well follow close behind.

So self-interest alone would seem to inspire more robust action.

Yet the region's leaders have decided that the greater priority is to stick together rather than to risk internal dissent.

Overall, these measures will disappoint those who had hoped to see southern African leaders discipline Robert Mugabe for the recent political crackdown on opposition protests.

It also defied those who suggested that for their own sakes the 13 leaders would ramp up their efforts to avoid the regional crisis that civil war would inevitably provoke.


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