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US Toughens Stance on Zimbabwe's Leaders - 2003-03-13

The United States said Wednesday it will lead an effort to condemn Zimbabwe for "flagrant and ruinous" human rights abuses at the upcoming meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The State Department issued a report, which says the more than two decades of rule by Robert Mugabe have brought the country to a state of ruin.

The report issued here, entitled Zimbabwe's Man-Made Crisis, follows by just a few days the imposition of U.S. financial sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and key associates, and is aimed at shoring up what officials here are concerned may be faltering international pressure on the Harare government.

France defied EU travel sanctions last month by inviting the Zimbabwean leader to a Franco-African summit, while officials in South Africa and Nigeria, in statements strongly contested here, have spoken of an improving situation in Zimbabwe.

The 16-page U.S. report says Zimbabwe is in deep crisis thanks to the policies of the Mugabe government, with half the country's population facing famine, an unemployment rate exceeding 70 per cent, and a once-promising democratic system replaced by what is termed the "arbitrary and brutal rule of a self-appointed elite."

At a news conference, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Scott Carpenter accused Mr. Mugabe of intensifying repression of political opponents after his tainted re-election last year, and said the government's seizure of commercial farms accelerated the country's economic tailspin.

"The vote also resulted in intensification of violence against Mugabe's opponents, further restrictions on press, further restrictions on other freedoms, and a continuation of land seizures and profound economic decline," he said. "By riding roughshod over the political and human rights of his fellow Zimbabweans, by demonstrating his total disregard for human rights and democracy, Robert Mugabe has succeeded in reducing a once-promising nation with a bright future to a state of ruin, desolation and isolation."

Senior officials here said they hope the U.S. document will have strong impact and stimulate a vigorous debate at the annual U.N. human rights meeting which opens next week in Geneva. They said the United States hoped to lobby South Africa and other African members of the 53-nation commission to sponsor a resolution condemning Zimbabwe, but in the absence of that, the United States might launch a resolution of its own.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Bellamy expressed hope that South Africa, which has pursued "quiet diplomacy" with its northern neighbor, will press the Zimbabwean government "more forcefully" to end repression and move toward free elections.

As to the French invitation to Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Bellamy noted that the European Union subsequently extended its travel and economic sanctions against the Harare leadership for another year, and that Commonwealth sanctions, while under review, remain in place. He said this is no time to ease international pressure:

"The key over the coming year will be to keep the sanctions in place and to instill, I think, a new sense of urgency particularly on the part of Zimbabwe's neighbors that the humanitarian crisis in the country is coming to a head the pressures in Zimbabwe itself are building and this is the time that we need to apply maximum pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to abandon these repressive policies, and to begin a process of liberalization leading to early free and fair elections," said Mr. Bellamy.

President Bush issued an executive order last Friday that would freeze any U.S. assets of, and bar Americans from doing business with, Mr. Mugabe and 76 government officials and close associates, including his wife and sister. Senior Zimbabwean officials have been barred from U.S. travel since last year, though they may attend United Nations in New York under the host agreement with the world body.