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State Department: Regional Pressures on Zimbabwe More Useful than Outside Appeals - 2004-01-16


David Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder says US officials hope South African president will do more to find a way to end the crisis in Zimbabwe

The State Department's chief Africa diplomat says U.S. officials are hoping South African President Thabo Mbeki will play a more vigorous role in helping find a way to end the crisis in Zimbabwe. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder spoke to foreign reporters in Washington Thursday.

Mr. Snyder says pressure on Zimbabwe from regional leaders carries more political weight than appeals from the United States and others outside the area.

And he says U.S. officials are hopeful Mr. Mbeki, in particular, takes a stronger part this year in pressuring Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his government to negotiate with the opposition and accept change.

In a news conference at Washington's Foreign Press Center, Mr. Snyder said South Africa has done "great things" in regional diplomacy in recent years including its key role of peace efforts in Burundi and intervention in Lesotho to overturn a military coup in 1998.

Asked by a South African reporter to assess that country's role on Zimbabwe, Mr. Snyder said the United States is still looking for the kind of "energetic diplomacy" that the Pretoria government exercised elsewhere in the region.

"We were hoping that we would get that kind of heavy weight, given the neighbor relationship and the economic interdependence between yourselves and Zimbabwe," he said. "We were hoping that we would get that African insight. I think we still are. I think we're hoping that President Mbeki will be able to get quietly and effectively get President Mugabe to see that what's going on is destroying Zimbabwe. It's not advancing his agenda in any way that makes sense."

The United States joined the European Union and Commonwealth countries in imposing travel and economic sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and top aides in protest of flawed elections in 2002 and the government's broad crackdown on the political opposition.

The Bush administration has also been critical of Mr. Mugabe's land-reform program, which has involved the confiscation of white-owned commercial farms, and has exacerbated drought-related food shortages.

Mr. Snyder said land reform "makes sense" but not the kind that ends up being "another form of patronage and corruption," a reference to reports that Mugabe associates and relatives have taken possession of some choice parcels of seized land.

He said U.S. condemnation of the Mugabe program is justified, but said when countries like South Africa, Angola and Mozambique speak out on the issue, it should and does carry more weight.

Mr. Snyder said the overall situation in Zimbabwe ultimately will turn for the better when the region decides that the Mugabe government's behavior is unacceptable and demands real dialogue.

He said with a "tragedy unfolding" in Zimbabwe "time is of the essence" and said the United States hopes President Mbeki takes a "re-energized look" at the situation.

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