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Two-Day SADC Summit Opens in Tanzania


A two-day summit of the Southern Africa Development Community is opening in Tanzania. High on the agenda are events unfolding in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

The director of Regional Cooperation for SADC, Herbert Mrango, tells VOA that the summit is meant to give heads of state the opportunity "to discuss issues of political cooperation in the region."

He would not elaborate on what the 14 member states are specifically expected to discuss.

Tanzania's minister of foreign affairs, Bernard Membe, is similarly vague in his description of the summit's agenda items, especially regarding recent developments in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"We are discussing about the political, economic, and security situations in the SADC region of 14 countries. These two [Zimbabwe and DRC] are within our region," Membe said. "So when we re-visit each country, certainly Zimbabwe, Congo, and all other countries will be revisited. It is not something abnormal - this happens. Meetings of this nature do happen."

At a news conference held earlier this month, Membe noted that the summit would address developments in Zimbabwe.

Membe was quoted in media reports as saying: "Our president [Jakaya Kikwete] believes that as chairman of the SADC peace and security organs, and in collaboration with other SADC leaders, they can solve Zimbabwe's problems."

SADC leaders reportedly called for the summit following an anti-government rally held in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, in the middle of March by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Police crushed the rally and arrested and severely beat MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and several dozen others.

The international community widely condemned the incident.

Some members of the ruling ZANU-PF party are also upset with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe over his proposal to extend his presidential term by two years, to 2010.

Mugabe is increasingly under fire for what many say is his autocratic and repressive rule, which is blamed for the food shortages, rampant inflation, and high unemployment that is plaguing the country.

Also reportedly on the SADC summit's agenda are issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

European Union ambassadors are reporting that up to 600 people may have been killed in recent gun battles in the capital between the army and loyalists of former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Bemba fled to the South African embassy after an arrest warrant was issued against him for high treason and maintaining a personal militia.

The summit is being chaired by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

SADC is a 14-nation regional bloc that promotes development and democracy in the region.

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