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Upcoming SADC Summit Strains Zimbabwe Inclusive Government

Political temperatures are rising in Zimbabwe before a crucial summit of the Southern African Development Community to be held next week in Kinshasa. The group guaranteed the political agreement signed a year ago by President Robert Mugabe and MDC leader and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

In the run-up to the SADC summit, Zimbabwe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa ordered the release of about 1,500 jailed women and juvenile prisoners, 10 percent of the prison population held in appalling conditions, according to local and international human rights organizations. Also released were those who are terminally ill.

Those convicted of violent crimes were not released.

Chinamasa has blamed U.S. and EU travel and financial sanctions against Zanu-PF and a few companies that are close to the party for prison conditions.

Zanu-PF has criticized Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai for failing to get the restrictions lifted against the inclusive government.

Chinamasa also told the public media Tuesday that Zimbabwe does not recognize SADC's Tribunal, a court of last resort for the region's citizens. Chinamasa said that two thirds of member states should ratify the tribunal for it to have jurisdiction in Zimbabwe.

In June, Zimbabwe was found guilty of contempt of the Tribunal's ruling last year that more than 70 white farmers should be left in peace on their land. The Tribunal's contempt finding was referred to the Kinshasa summit.

South African advocate Jeremy Gauntlett, who represented the farmers at the tribunal, said Zimbabwe's deputy attorney general twice confirmed to the tribunal that he accepted its jurisdiction, and did so a third time in writing.

The Africa Director of the International Commission of Jurists, Arnold Tsunga, said Zimbabwe would have to withdraw from the SADC community of states if it does not recognize the validity of its organ, the Tribunal.

The first farmer to receive protection from the tribunal, Mike Campbell, had his farm house burned down Sunday according to local reports. Three days earlier, his son-in-law had his house burned down on the same farm in central Zimbabwe.

Monday, Mr. Tsvangirai issued a strong critique of the political agreement. He said state media continued what he said was a "vicious" campaign promoting "hatred and acrimony" to bolster the Zanu-PF.

He said there is a "selective" application of the rule of law, including the persecution and prosecution of MDC Parliament members, which inflames political tensions.

Mr. Tsvangirai said while outstanding issues from the political agreement remain unresolved, the international community would not invest in Zimbabwe.

He called for the Southern African Development Community to decide at the summit when it would begin the six-month review it had pledged when the inclusive government was sworn into power.