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Zimbabwe's Exclusion Becomes Hot Topic at Commonwealth Summit - 2003-12-07


A six-member panel of Commonwealth leaders is grappling with the exclusion of Zimbabwe from the group as a four-day summit nears its close.

Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon, a New Zealander, says he hopes a compromise can be reached among the special six-nation panel, so the group can move forward with other issues.

Mr. McKinnon has been striking a conciliatory tone toward Zimbabwe, which has been suspended from the group of mainly former British colonies since last year because of alleged rigged elections and state intimidation of political opponents.

Mr. McKinnon says the goal is to set out political steps for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF Party to appease complaints by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, known as the MDC.

"Now, what we obviously want to do is ultimately re-engage," said Mr. McKinnon. "What everyone has been saying, any part that any reconciliation between the Commonwealth and Zimbabwe, between Zimbabwe and every other international institution, some of the neighbors, is going to begin with a reconciliation of reasonable productive talks between ZANU-PF and MDC."

The panel of six nations specifically dealing with the issue of Zimbabwe is made up of Australia, Canada, Mozambique, India, Jamaica and South Africa. Most other Commonwealth leaders attended religious services, followed by meetings on other topics such as trade, terrorism and AIDS.

Mr. Mugabe, who was furious at not being invited to the summit, has been threatening to pull out of the Commonwealth. He said Saturday the group is being hijacked by, what he called, racist white Anglo-Saxon countries opposed to his forced redistribution of white-owned farms to blacks.

The summit is scheduled to end Monday with the release of a final communiqué.