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Britain Wants UN Security Council Attention on Zimbabwe

Britain is calling for a U.N. Security Council briefing on events in Zimbabwe, including the crackdown on government opponents. But as VOA correspondent Peter Heinlein at U.N. headquarters reports, the Council president, South Africa, is resisting the request.

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones-Parry, Friday, said the widely condemned recent events in Zimbabwe, the attack on opposition leaders, including Morgan Tsvangirai, and what he called 'the impossibility of the present situation' warrant the Security Council's attention. He says the Council should be formally briefed by the U.N.'s political department.

"It is right the situation should be brought to the Security Council of the United Nations," he said. "That's what the briefing will do, actually making sure that the focus of attention here is on the appalling events of the last week, and the economic meltdown of a country, who, by it's own figures, its inflation rate is 1,740 percent, and the implications of that for the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, and potentially for the region."

But the request for a briefing immediately ran into opposition from regional power South Africa, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month. South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, called the British request 'surprising,' and said his country sees no need to bring the issue of Zimbabwe before the Council.

"We did put South Africa on record that we do not believe that the issue of Zimbabwe belongs to the Security Council, because it is not a matter of international peace and security," he said.

In the past, China, Russia and several African nations have opposed bringing Zimbabwe before the Security Council.

Britain demanded and received a Council briefing nearly two years ago on Zimbabwe's controversial urban slum demolition drive. In a rare protest, several ambassadors walked out of the Council chamber after a motion to hold the briefing passed by a narrow margin.

British ambassador Jones-Parry argued Friday that the earlier vote effectively placed Zimbabwe on the Council's permanent agenda.

"Remember, Zimbabwe is a formal agenda item," he added. "Yes, it was agreed last year. It was agreed by a majority vote in the council, formally."

U.N. diplomats noted Friday that, if South Africa succeeds in delaying a briefing on Zimbabwe, conditions could change next month, when Britain assumes the Security Council presidency.

Jones-Parry said Britain is also pursuing the Zimbabwe issue at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. The United States and Australia have also joined the call for increasing sanctions on President Robert Mugabe's government.

In a related development, Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu issued a statement saying Africans should hang their heads in shame over what is happening in Zimbabwe. He questioned how African leaders could show so little concern.

News reports from Harare say the injured opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was discharged from the hospital Friday, and he and other opposition leaders vowed to keep battling against President Mugabe's rule.