Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Thursday, 19 June 2008 15:31 UK

Foreboding rises over Zimbabwe

By David Bamford
BBC Africa analyst

Thabo Mbeki, Cape Town, 6 June 2008
Thabo Mbeki's strategy has been neutrality and gentle persuasion

Just over a week before the presidential run-off election in Zimbabwe, the regional mediator, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, has held separate talks with President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

There has been no word on the outcome of Mr Mbeki's meetings with the two political opponents.

Earlier, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, added his voice to the growing international concern over the political violence in Zimbabwe.

African governments are looking to next week's run-off presidential election in Zimbabwe with a growing sense of foreboding.

Few critics

Violence remains high, intimidation is rampant, and there is an assumption that if and when this election takes place, the troubles could only just be starting.

A few - but only a few - African leaders have spoken out publicly against President Mugabe and his political allies.

What you need in Zimbabwe is an international peacekeeping force so that eventually proper elections can be held

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga

The leader of South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC) party, Jacob Zuma, said he did not expect the election to be free and fair.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who has been in Washington, has gone the furthest so far.

"My view is that the time has come for the international community to act on Zimbabwe in the way that it did in Bosnia," he said.

"I do not think that we are going to get free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.

"And, what you need in Zimbabwe is an international peacekeeping force so that eventually proper elections can be held."

'Strong message'

There has been no shortage of Western voices, not only criticising the violence, but saying who they believe is behind it.

Mr Mbeki has remained loyal to his original strategy of neutrality and gentle persuasion.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is among those hoping that - however it looks on the outside - he is being far more forthright in his consultations with Mr Mugabe.

Victims of an attack by suspected Zanu-PF supporters in May
Western leaders have condemned the electoral violence in Zimbabwe

"I think that it is time for the leaders of Africa to say to President Mugabe that the people of Zimbabwe deserve a free and fair election, that you cannot intimidate opponents, you cannot put opponents in jail, you cannot threaten them with charges of treason, and be respected in the international community," she said.

"And I think that is a strong message, and I hope it will be delivered."

Behind the scenes, many are already dismissing the election as irrelevant.

Some are talking of a possible Kenya-style solution, with a form of unity government.

But there are forces in Zimbabwe - on both sides of the political divide - who would oppose this tooth and nail.

If no deal can be reached, then the country and the region seem destined for an even greater humanitarian disaster.

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