By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 16, 2008
JOHANNESBURG, May 15 -- Zimbabwe's opposition party on Thursday called for an urgent new round of regional diplomacy to resolve that nation's six-week-old electoral stalemate, saying that only foreign intervention can prevent a recent surge of political violence from developing into full-scale civil strife.
Tendai Biti, secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) must "play the midwifery role" in easing President Robert Mugabe from power in the aftermath of the March 29 election. Mugabe placed second to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in that vote but has vowed to win a runoff.
If diplomacy fails, "the next thing is a war," Biti told reporters after a news conference here. "It's not an option to us, but one day some [person] is going to say, 'This is the only solution.' SADC must act now before rivers of dead people start to flow, as they did in Rwanda."
Mugabe's party has said a second round of voting is necessary because neither candidate won a clear majority in official results. Biti repeated claims on Thursday that those results, which were released after an unexplained delay of more than a month, were manipulated by Mugabe's party to prevent an outright victory by Tsvangirai.
Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission has not announced the date of the second round of voting but began legal maneuvers this week to extend the potential runoff period from 21 days to 90. The move, which Biti said was unconstitutional, would allow an election any time before the beginning of August -- more than four months after the original vote.
With a second election looming, Mugabe's supporters have been marauding through Zimbabwe's countryside, beating, torturing and killing opposition activists, especially in rural areas that abandoned Mugabe in the first vote. Human rights workers say 25 people have been killed and more than 1,000 seriously injured. Tens of thousands have fled their homes.
The dead include a growing number of key opposition party activists, Biti said. He added that both he and Tsvangirai plan to return to Zimbabwe in the next several days despite fears that they might face arrest or beatings upon their return.
Biti also said that recent attacks on foreigners, especially Zimbabweans, in South African townships show that Zimbabwe's problems are no longer confined to that country.