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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 12:11 GMT
Zimbabwe observers undaunted
President Robert Mugabe addressing rally
Mr Mugabe defies international criticism
Commonwealth officials say they will make a fair assessment of next month's presidential election in Zimbabwe, where campaigning has been marred by political violence.

The head of the Commonwealth team - former Nigerian head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar - said he had about 40 observers on the ground monitoring the run-up to the poll.



ZIMBABWE VOICES

I cannot wait for the elections to be over. Perhaps then I will be able to live a normal life.

Barbara, a teacher
arrow More voices from Zimbabwe
Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon said the numbers were insufficient, but a fair assessment was possible and his organisation would remain engaged with President Robert Mugabe.

In further unrest on Sunday hundreds of supporters of President Mugabe attacked followers of his main rival Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The violence flared up in Chinhoyi, near Mr Mugabe's home town Zvimba. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) said some of its election monitors were in a car pelted with stones by the pro-Mugabe militants, Reuters news agency reported.

Speaking on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme, Mr McKinnon said it was not easy to find experienced people to make up for the EU observers who left the country after the EU imposed sanctions against Mr Mugabe.


The head of the Commonwealth observer mission Abdulsalami Abubakar
Mr Abubakar has about 40 observers in Zimbabwe

Invited observers

  • Southern African Development Community
  • Commonwealth (excluding UK)
  • EU (withdrawn)
  • Organisation of African Unity

    Who are the observers?

  • Mr Tsvangirai told the programme the Commonwealth was being hoodwinked by Mr Mugabe.

    The chief Commonwealth observer said he was sending 20 teams of two observers each across the country.

    "Our concern will be purely with the electoral environment and the process rather than the outcome," Mr Abubakar told a news briefing on Sunday.

    "We will be impartial and objective, we will give an honest assessment."

    Impact of sanctions

    Mr Tsvangirai said the EU sanctions had been late, but the impact of their withdrawal had already made the elections "illegitimate".

    The move had sent a strong signal to "Mugabe and his cronies that the international community will not accept any other result but the result that will reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe".

    Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai
    Morgan Tsvangirai said sanctions had come too late
    He said the Commonwealth appeared to have been "hoodwinked into believing that Mugabe would somehow listen to the voice of reason".

    Last week, two South African observers were holed up in an MDC office by 200 pro-government militants.

    The pair were not injured, but Mr Abubakar said it was "unfortunate that the incident took place".

    The deployment of observers from South Africa had somewhat improved the situation, according to Mr Tsvangirai, although there were still "isolated incidents".

    The United States has joined the EU in banning Mr Mugabe and his ruling elite travelling to the their country - a move Mr Mugabe described as a "Western ploy".

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Nick Hawton
    "Election observers themselves came under attack"
    See also:

    23 Feb 02 | Africa
    Mugabe banned from US travel
    06 Feb 02 | Africa
    Zimbabwe's climate of fear
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