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Commonwealth Countries Cannot Reach Consensus on Zimbabwe - 2002-09-23

The leaders of three Commonwealth countries have failed to agree on further action against Zimbabwe. The leaders of Australia, South Africa, and Nigeria met Monday in Abuja, Nigeria, to assess Zimbabwe's progress since it was suspended from the Commonwealth in March.

A statement issued after the meeting of the three leaders said they failed to agree on toughening sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe because of objections from South Africa and Nigeria.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that he proposed expelling Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, but the Nigerian and South African leaders rejected his proposal.

Zimbabwe was suspended by the Commonwealth, following presidential elections in March that were characterized by widespread violence. Immediately after the elections, South Africa and Nigeria were mandated by the Commonwealth to encourage negotiations in Zimbabwe to address the disputes over the election outcome, but these negotiations never took place.

South Africa is perceived by many Zimbabweans and by Western nations as pivotal to solving Zimbabwe's problems. But analysts say President Thabo Mbeki has little leverage with Zimbabwe, aside from the fact that Zimbabwe gets electricity from South Africa.

In addition, Mr. Mbeki is worried that a complete economic collapse in Zimbabwe would send millions of refugees flooding into his country and other countries in the region, particularly Botswana and Mozambique.

The South African leader has also frequently said that sanctions would only cause further suffering for ordinary people in Zimbabwe. Half Zimbabwe's population is facing starvation, caused by a combination of a severe drought and the effect of the Zimbabwean president's land redistribution program on food production.

Mr. Mugabe's land redistribution program has forced about 3,000 commercial farmers in Zimbabwe off their farms. Along with them, 750,000 farm workers have lost their homes and jobs.