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Southern African Leaders Announce New Peacekeeping Force


Southern African leaders meeting in Zambia have announced the creation of a peacekeeping force available for rapid deployment in the region.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa Friday welcomed the creation of the force, saying the "scourge" of conflicts in Africa impedes social and economic development. He was speaking at the second and last day of a summit of the 14-member Southern African Development Community, SADC.

Each of the SADC countries has promised to provide troops for the force, except for Madagascar.

Also Friday, a report on Zimbabwe is expected from South African President Thabo Mbeki, who heads a regional effort to mediate a political conflict in the country. The SADC is under pressure from the West to take a harder line against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe

Critics have denounced Mr. Mugabe for cracking down on political opponents.

Mr. Mugabe received a loud ovation as he was introduced before the official start of the summit on Thursday. But opponents say his policies have resulted in food shortages, and a soaring inflation rate.

Many in the SADC believe Zimbabwe's crisis could destabilize the region. Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa and other neighboring countries.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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