Page last updated at 03:57 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

UN chief deplores Mugabe position

Ban Ki-moon, file pic from 12 December 2008
Mr Ban said the people of Zimbabwe could not wait any longer

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon has said his organisation can do little to help Zimbabwe because of its leaders' refusal to allow it to mediate.

Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic was only the most visible manifestation of a wider crisis, Mr Ban told a session of the Security Council.

The UN says 978 people have been killed by cholera, a 25% increase on the last figure given just days ago.

Talks between the government and opposition are meanwhile deadlocked.

The Security Council was holding its first discussions on Zimbabwe since July.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband described Mr Ban's closed-door briefing on the situation in Zimbabwe as "devastating".

The meeting ended without agreement on a motion to censure Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, which a diplomat present said was due to opposition from South Africa.

'Failure to act'

Discussing stalled power-sharing talks in Zimbabwe, Mr Ban said neither the country's government nor the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - which is mediating the talks - welcomed a political role for the UN.

Cholera patient being treated in Harare - 10/12/2008
The current cholera epidemic is only the most visible manifestation of a profound multi-sector crisis
Ban Ki-moon
UN secretary general

"We continue to witness a failure of the leadership in Zimbabwe to address the political, economic, human rights and humanitarian crisis that is confronting the country and to do what is best for the people of Zimbabwe," he said.

"The current cholera epidemic is only the most visible manifestation of a profound multi-sector crisis, encompassing food, agriculture, education, health, water, sanitation and HIV/Aids."

After disputed presidential elections in March, Mr Mugabe's Zanu PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change agreed to form a power-sharing government.

But implementation of that agreement, reached in September, has been dogged by disagreements over whose supporters would get key ministries.

In the Security Council's debate on Zimbabwe in July, Russia and China vetoed an attempt by Western countries to impose sanctions on Mr Mugabe, saying Zimbabwe's difficulties were an internal matter, says the BBC's UN correspondent Laura Trevelyan.

But while there is much greater concern about the country now, divisions remain, our correspondent says, and Zimbabwe's descent into chaos continues.

'Real disease'

The UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said on Monday Zimbabwe's worst cholera-hit area was the capital, Harare, with 208 confirmed deaths and 8,454 suspected cases.

David Miliband: 'We heard a devastating report from the secretary general'

With the UN warning that up to 60,000 people could become infected if the outbreak is not contained, the South African Red Cross issued an appeal for funds to treat 30,000 people.

Mr Miliband said that while cholera was making the headlines, Zimbabwe's real disease was "the disease of misrule and corruption" under Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's president said last Thursday the cholera outbreak had been contained, and accused Western powers, including Great Britain, of using the outbreak as a pretext to invade the country and overthrow him.

Zimbabwe has also accused its neighbour Botswana of being involved in a plot to overthrow Mr Mugabe's government and hosting military training camps for opposition rebels.

Botswana, whose President Ian Khama is one of the few African leaders to have publicly criticised Mr Mugabe, denies the claims.

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