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Report: Mediation Effort Offers Only Real Hope for Zimbabwe

A new report says Zimbabwe is nearing complete collapse, and that a regional effort to find a political solution offers the only chance to turn things around.

Tuesday's report from the International Crisis Group recommends that the U.S. and other Western nations fully support the regional initiative led by the Southern African Development Community or SADC.

It also said the SADC should be prepared to abandon the mediation effort if Zimbabwe's government is not negotiating with the opposition or blocks reforms that will allow free and fair elections next year.

The Brussels-based analysis group acknowledged the mediation talks are "fragile."

The SADC began its effort earlier this year as Zimbabwe tumbled into a general crisis marked by food shortages, an inflation rate of several thousand percent, and a government crackdown on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

South African President Thabo Mbeki has taken the lead role in the negotiations between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition.

Critics say Mr. Mbeki is often too soft on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The Crisis Group report said there is a risk that southern African leaders will accept "cosmetic changes" in Zimbabwe that further entrench the status quo.

It also said there is little chance the MDC can win the coming elections because of severe internal divisions.

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