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US Says Neighbors Hold Key to Ending Zimbabwe Crisis


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that only a concerted international effort led by Zimbabwe's neighbors can end the political and humanitarian crisis in that country. On Monday, Rice reiterated her call for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step down.

Rice's statement in Denmark late last week that it is "high time" for Mr. Mugabe to depart has set off an international groundswell, with leaders of Britain and France and European Union since echoing that call.

But the Secretary says the suffering of the Zimbabwean people is unlikely to end soon, unless there is a broader push for change in Harare led by the countries of the region.

Rice spoke Monday at a State Department ceremony at which the outspoken U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, was given the department's 2008 "Diplomacy for Freedom" award for his efforts to draw world attention to human rights abuses by the Harare government.

The Secretary said that with most international journalists barred from Zimbabwe earlier this year, McGee organized convoys of foreign diplomats to the countryside to witness what Rice termed a "reign of terror" by the Mugabe government against the political opposition in connection with disputed elections in March and June.

She said the forays led by McGee helped establish truth that could not be ignored, and helped build world pressure for a power-sharing accord in September that Mr. Mugabe has refused to implement.

"Ambassador McGee, I know you have tried to work to make the electoral process fair and to make the power-sharing arrangements work. But ultimately, you are working, you are working with and for the United States government to make life better for the Zimbabwean people," she said. "And we deeply hope that will soon come. It will come only, though, if there is a concerted international response - especially by the countries of the region, to the terrible, terrible humanitarian disaster that has now broken out - [not only] the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe but also to the terrible and outrageous behavior of the Mugabe government."

The State Department earlier urged southern African states to "step up" and use their leverage to end the crisis.

The European Union on Monday extended a travel ban to 11 more Zimbabwean officials, with both EU chief diplomat Javier Solana and French President Nicolas Sarkozy - whose country holds the rotating EU presidency - joining those urging Mr. Muagabe's departure from power.

A spokesman for the Zimbabwean leader in Harare dismissed the calls, saying that Mr. Mugabe is constitutionally elected and that foreign leaders - regardless of how powerful they may be - have no right to call on him top step down.

Zimbabwean officials have also accused foreign officials of exploiting the country's health crisis to rally support against Mr. Mugabe.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday that the United States separates humanitarian assistance for Zimbabwe from any political differences it may have with the government.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, last week said it was providing an additional $600,000 to help combat the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe in addition to a previously-announced $4 million emergency water and sanitation project. USAID said that overall U.S. humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe, including food assistance, since October 2007 has been more than $220 million.

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