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Mbeki:  Zimbabwe Neighbors Opposed to Sanctions - 2002-01-21

South African President Thabo Mbeki says Zimbabwe's neighbors are opposed to sanctions against that nation, at least for now. He says their first priority is to ensure that Zimbabwe's presidential elections in March are free and fair. Mr. Mbeki made the comment after meeting with visiting German President Johannes Rau.

President Mbeki said leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have essentially ruled out sanctions against Zimbabwe for the time being.

Mr. Mbeki said the SADC nations' first priority is ensuring that Zimbabwe holds free and fair presidential elections in March. He refused to speculate whether the regional body will consider sanctions if the elections are not free and fair.

SADC leaders met in Malawi last week to discuss regional issues, including Zimbabwe. They welcomed a pledge by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe that the March poll will be free and fair. But skeptics in the region say there is little incentive for him to keep that promise.

Mr. Mbeki admitted the economic and political situations in Zimbabwe are worsening. He told reporters a fraudulent election would add to the country's already serious problems. He said the instability in Zimbabwe has gone on too long.

The South African leader spoke after meeting with visiting German President Johannes Rau. The German leader arrived in South Africa Monday for a four-day trip to discuss bilateral relations and African development.

Mr. Rau said it was impossible for the two men to avoid discussing Zimbabwe as well, because of recent events there.

Mr. Rau warned lawlessness and human rights violations in Zimbabwe seriously threaten the whole African continent. And he said Zimbabwe's troubles affect the way Europeans view Africa.