By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
JOHANNESBURG, Sept. 18 -- A leading international research group urged southern African leaders Tuesday to offer Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his closest allies amnesty from prosecution in exchange for political reforms that might end years of misrule.
The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based organization that studies conflicts worldwide, also said that negotiators should offer to let Mugabe and key supporters keep fortunes amassed during Zimbabwe's long decline. And the group said a government of national unity, including the nation's opposition leaders, would be possible only if they agree not to reverse controversial land seizures of white-owned commercial farms since 2000.
Such concessions, backed by the lure of an economic rescue package, might prompt the political breakthrough necessary to allow free and fair elections and Mugabe's eventual departure from power, the group said. The idea drew immediate criticism from some Zimbabweans but suggested a possible way forward in a stalemate that long has seemed intractable.
"You have to have some safeguards and guarantees for the establishment for this to happen. Otherwise the status quo will remain," Fran¿ois Grignon, director of the Africa program for the International Crisis Group, said in a telephone interview from Nairobi.
Grignon also suggested a truth and reconciliation commission -- modeled on South Africa's system of trading amnesty for full confession after the fall of apartheid -- to bring to light crimes committed during Mugabe's 27 years in power.
Several former African presidents, such as Charles Taylor of Liberia, faced prosecution after leaving office. And though advocates of international justice applaud such efforts, political analysts say they can present obstacles to peacefully ending destructive political stalemates.
Zimbabwe's leading opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, said no political party had the power to grant Mugabe amnesty for his misdeeds, including extensive allegations of the ongoing assault, torture and murder of dissidents as well as the massacre of thousands of Ndebeles, a minority group, during the 1980s.
"Whether he gets amnesty or all the other security guarantees, it must be decided by the people," said William Bango, a spokesman for Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition party's largest faction.
The report urged Western nations to back negotiations being led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been widely criticized for failing to produce results through a process he has long called "quiet diplomacy."
The Southern African Development Community in March appointed Mbeki to renew his leadership of negotiations. Though the process has yielded little in the way of results, the International Crisis Group said it was the best hope for rescuing Zimbabwe.
The report portrayed the opposition as deeply divided, without the ability to put serious pressure on Mugabe. It said factions within his ruling party were more likely to force him from power but portrayed that as unlikely before national elections scheduled for March.
Mugabe, 83, has ruled Zimbabwe since the end of white supremacist government in 1980. The land reform program, which was characterized by violent farm seizures and the devastation of the nation's important commercial agriculture industry, has deeply tarnished Mugabe's international reputation, as have crackdowns on personal liberties and press freedoms. Several consecutive elections have been widely condemned as deeply flawed.
The International Crisis Group portrayed the situation as grim and worsening, with massive food shortages, thousands of arbitrary arrests and mass emigration so severe that an estimated 3,000 Zimbabweans leave every day. It also said that members of Mugabe's inner circle are profiting from their country's devastation by siphoning off aid money provided by European donors.