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Official: US Will React if Repression Mars Zimbabwe Election - 2002-03-01

The Bush administration's top Africa policy official says fraud and violence will likely mar next month's presidential election in Zimbabwe. However, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner insists the administration will not stand by idly if Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe resorts to repression to remain in power.

Secretary Kansteiner spoke Thursday before the U.S. House of Representatives' Africa subcommmittee. The panel clearly expected the Zimbabwe government to do its worst to ensure Mr. Mugabe remains in power after next month's election.

Ranking democratic Congressman Donald Payne read from a letter he once wrote to President Mugabe, who has run the African country since it gained formal independence from Britain 22 years ago. He bemoaned the violence that has taken scores of lives in the past two years.

"Post-independence Zimbabwe clearly demonstrates much of the best of Africa and what Africans are capable of doing despite decades of repressive white rule," he said. "But in recent years, conditions have gone from bad to worse: The economy is in a shambles and your once politically stable country is increasingly becoming chaotic. Human rights abuses are increasing and your government seems to care little about the rule of law."

Legislators also quoted from a South African news report that implies the Zimbabwe government is using false witnesses to accuse opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of plotting to kill Mr. Mugabe. There has been no formal indictment yet against the opposition leader.

In the election, the president faces a stiff challenge from Mr. Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic Change took almost half of all parliamentary seats at the last election two years ago.

Secretary Kansteiner agreed with the panel that the outlook for a clean election remains bleak. So bleak, in fact, that the United States will not send observers to March's vote.

"Nonetheless, it is possible that the brave people of Zimbabwe will vote with such conviction and in such numbers that the election will produce a meaningful result," he said. "The voice of the people can still be heard, even with the unlevel playing field that we see emerging in the country today."

Last week, the Bush administration imposed travel sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and his closest associates, barring their entry in the United States. Mr. Kansteiner insisted that the Administration will keep up the pressure on the Zimbabwean leader.

"The government of Zimbabwe should have no illusions about the consequences of a seriously flawed or annulled election," he said. "And the administration, working closely with you all, would like to continue pressing, urging, cajoling and watching and assisting those in Zimbabwe who do want to see a democratic outcome come to fruition."

The Zimbabwean election is scheduled for March 9-10.