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President Mugabe Has Lost His Legitimacy, says Colin Powell - 2003-06-24

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is calling on Zimbabwe's neighbors to press for a political dialogue in Harare to end the rule of President Robert Mugabe. In a New York Times column Tuesday, Mr. Powell said the United States and other countries are ready to help with a transitional process there.

In his strongest language to date on Zimbabwe, Mr. Powell says President Mugabe and his inner circle have lost their legitimacy and moral authority and will eventually fall, "dragging their soiled record behind them into obscurity."

But he said the question remains how many Zimbabweans will lose their jobs, homes and even their lives before President Mugabe's "violent misrule" runs its course.

In the New York Times commentary, Mr. Powell likened Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been in and out of government jails, to Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying both are waging a non-violent struggles against ruthless regimes.

The secretary said the United States will continue speaking out for human rights in Zimbabwe and helping those "resisting tyranny." But he says those efforts are unlikely to succeed quickly enough without engagement by South Africa and other neighboring states, who he said should play a stronger role "that fully reflects the urgency" of Zimbabwe's crisis.

Mr. Powell warned that if African leaders do not do more to convince President Mugabe to enter a dialogue with the opposition, Mr. Mugabe will drag Zimbabwe down "until there is nothing left to ruin", and the country's "implosion" will threaten the entire region.

The Secretary said the way out is for the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to legislate a transition, producing Mr. Mugabe's departure, a interim government, and a date for new elections.

If that happened, Mr. Powell said he believes Zimbabweans of all backgrounds would unite for the rebuilding process and said the United States, with other donors close behind, would be quick to pledge "generous assistance" to Zimbabwean institutions, even before the election.

Mr. Powell said he anticipated charges by Mr. Mugabe and his "cohorts" of U.S. blackmail because of the aid offer, but said they should be ignored. "Their time," he said, "has come and gone."

There were similar comments here from the Bush administration's chief human rights official, Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner.

Briefing reporters on a new report on U.S. global human rights efforts, Mr. Craner also likened the situation in Zimbabwe to that of Burma, and said both would benefit from stronger engagement by their neighbors. "If the U.S. condemns what a country is doing, and Europe condemns what a country is doing, that's very helpful. But it is most helpful in the case of Burma, in the case of Zimbabwe, if the neighbors start to bring pressure on the regime," he said. "In the case of Burma, or in the case of Zimbabwe, they ought to be concerned, because those regimes are sullying the reputation of their region. In the case of Zimbabwe, the economic situation in Zimbabwe is dragging down the South African economy. So what we hope they will do in both cases, is to make it clear to both regimes that their kind of government is not welcome in the region."

Mr. Craner cited the African economic grouping NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, as a vehicle for promoting change in Zimbabwe, while he said ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, should have the same role with Burma.

Mr. Craner said the Bush administration has "lost its patience" with the Burmese military rulers following the May 30 attack on Aung San Suu Kyi and party colleagues, staged, he said, by "government thugs," and is working with Congress on additional sanctions against Rangoon.

He said in both Zimbabwe and Burma, the United States seeks a negotiated process leading to the departure of those currently holding power.