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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 16:29 GMT
Mugabe given list of election demands
President Robert Mugabe
Mr Mugabe was given some frank advice
By Elizabeth Blunt in Malawi

A special summit meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has ended with Zimbabwe being given a list of actions it has to take to reduce political tension in the approach to March's presidential elections.

Neighbouring countries had expressed concern that this tension, and Zimbabwe's economic decline, were beginning to affect the whole region.

The summit expressed serious concern on the statement made by the Zimbabwe army on the outcome of the election

SADC statement
For eight hours the presidents of 14 southern African nations were closeted behind closed doors, a small enough group for frank speaking on the region's problems.

About half-an-hour before the end, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe came out alone.

When the final communiqué was issued it was clear that President Mugabe's fellow presidents had given him a long list of actions his government had to take:

  • Guarantee freedom of speech and association

  • Investigate fully all cases of political violence

  • Accredit local election monitors and foreign observers

  • Allow both local and foreign journalists to cover the polls

As the communiqué was read out, it became clear that the meeting had been very critical of some recent developments in Zimbabwe.

"The summit expressed serious concern on the statement made by the Zimbabwe army on the outcome of the election and urged the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that, in accordance with the multi-party political dispensation prevalent in SADC, political statements are not made by the military but by political leaders," the statement said.

But would Zimbabwe really do all this?

Tough time

At the press conference after the summit, its chairman, Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi, was asked what would happen if Zimbabwe did not comply.

President Muluzi
Mr Muluzi: Let us wait and see
"Let us give Zimbabwe a chance," he said.

"They have made a commitment to us, as SADC, and President Mugabe assured us several times that he would like to have free and fair elections. So we believe that there will be free and fair elections.

"So let us wait and see. I can assure you that all of us will take an interest to make sure that whatever has been promised is adhered to," President Muluzi said.

As Mr Mugabe left the summit he seemed confident enough, assuring journalists that it was his arch enemy Britain, and not Zimbabwe, that had come in for criticism.

'Hostile reporting'

In fact President Mugabe did score one point - over a new radio station, Radio Africa, which started broadcasting to Zimbabwe out of London just before Christmas.

We would like to encourage, if anything, some dialogue between Britain and Zimbabwe

Malawi's President Muluzi
"The summit noted with concern the negative reporting by certain sections of the media in Zimbabwe and appealed to them to be objective," the SADC executive secretary said.

"The summit expressed grave concern over the fact that some western countries have authorised the broadcasting from their territories by their nationals of hostile and inciting propaganda against the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

"The summit called upon those countries to desist from such actions."

President Muluzi declined to get involved in the war of words which has been going on between Britain and Zimbabwe. But he did recommend that both sides be prepared to talk.

"We would like to encourage, if anything, some dialogue between Britain and Zimbabwe so that they can start speaking to one another.

"It's difficult when you don't have a dialogue between parties and when you don't discuss issues and one hopes that one day, you know, President Mugabe and Prime Minister Blair will sit down and talk over things and discuss," he said.

See also:

15 Jan 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe set to pass media law
14 Jan 02 | Business
Neighbours fear Zimbabwe contagion
12 Jan 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe looms over SADC meeting
18 Dec 01 | Africa
Neighbours back Mugabe
12 Aug 01 | Africa
Packed agenda for SADC leaders
24 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Malawi
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