Commonwealth rapped for failure to rein in Mugabe

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Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo

«There's no winner, no loser»

Olusegun Obasanjo

Misanet.com / IPS, 4 March - Zimbabwe's main opposition party this week said it was disappointed that the Commonwealth - a club of former British colonies - has failed to suspend the southern African country from the organisation over human rights abuses. "The Commonwealth has missed an opportunity to strengthen its international credibility," said Tendai Biti, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC) shadow secretary for foreign affairs.

- By delaying its response the Commonwealth is providing (President Robert) Mugabe with much needed breathing space at a time when it should be sending a strong signal to Mugabe and his cohorts that his current course of action will not be tolerated, added Biti.

Under a deal reached at the talks in Australia at the weekend, the Commonwealth leaders agreed to set up a three-member committee to decide possible action, based on the findings of the group's election observers deployed in the country. 

The three-member Troika comprises Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Australian Prime Minister, John Howard.

According to Biti, the situation in Zimbabwe and the scale of evidence supporting the argument that the 9-10 March presidential election cannot be free and fair should have influenced the Commonwealth to take a tougher stance against Zimbabwe. "We are disappointed as a party," Biti told reporters in the capital Harare.

But a South African observer mission in Zimbabwe Monday said it believed that conditions prevail for the holding of elections that can reflect the true will of the voters.

Biti, who attended the Commonwealth meeting in Australia, claimed 34 opposition supporters have been murdered by ruling party militants since January. The charge has been denied by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

British Prime Minister, Tony Blair said the Commonwealth leaders ought to have gone further. "The case for suspending Zimbabwe now, I think, is very plain," he said. But Blair met resistance from Nigeria and Tanzania who felt Zimbabwe should be given a chance.

- Frankly, Obasanjo said, "and without any feeling of 'oh, I have lost out or I have won', there's no winner, no loser. The consensus agreement we have reached, we are all the better for it."

The Zimbabwean government accuses Britain of wanting to use the Commonwealth to settle a bilateral problem arising out of its controversial land reform programme to resettle hundreds of thousands of landless blacks on white-owned commercial farms.

Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, who attended the Commonwealth talks, described Britain's stance as "desperate, hysterical and thoroughly disgraceful."

- It's racism, is it not? Moyo asked. "It is so obvious they are doing this because they are unhappy about the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe," he told reporters in Australia at the weekend.

- They don't want to see social justice in Zimbabwe, said Moyo. "They want to deepen inequalities in Zimbabwe. I think Mr Blair in particular should grow up as a leader. His approach to international affairs and African affairs in particular is just amazing."

By Lewis Machipisa, IPS

© IPS.

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