Outgoing US Diplomat Takes Parting Shot at Zimbabwe

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Zimbabwe is "on the brink of disaster," which will only be averted if its neighbors act to bring about change in the southern African country, in the opinion of a top U.S. diplomat.

More sanctions may be needed if President Robert Mugabe's regime is to become more flexible in accommodating the views of the opposition, added Walter Kansteiner, the outgoing assistant secretary for African affairs.

Kansteiner, who is retiring and returning to the private sector, told reporters in Washington this week he regrets that the people of Zimbabwe "still do not have a voice" and that civil society there had been rendered ineffective.

"I think the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough economically, politically, from a human rights point of view. It's a tragic place, and so, I feel a great empathy for them," Kansteiner said.

Kansteiner said he regretted that Zimbabwe's neighbors were not doing enough to bring about change there. The problems were not only affecting Zimbabwean citizens, but also the whole region.

"If you have a country sitting in the middle of a region with these dramatic and drastic problems, the spillover effect is there. There is no two ways about it."

Kansteiner said the international community should adopt a strategy combining "carrots and sticks" to convince the ruling party to change.

South Africa has been singled out as the one neighbor of Zimbabwe that has both the economic and political clout to influence Mugabe but has been reluctant to do so.

The Commonwealth, an international grouping of Britain and its former colonies and protectorates, has been split over what to do about Zimbabwe, which was suspended last March after rigged elections.

South Africa and another key African country, Nigeria, are important players in the Commonwealth and have routinely blocked efforts by other members, led by Australia, to take firmer action against Zimbabwe.

The issue is expected to dominate the next Commonwealth heads of government summit, which is slated for Nigeria in December.

Zimbabwe's political crisis has continued to worsen, with new steps to suppress the independent press, tough action against human rights activists and alleged manipulation of the courts.

Unemployment has reached a new all-time high of 78 percent, and eight million people, more than half of Zimbabwe's population, now need food aid.

It costs 6,000 Zimbabwean dollars to buy one U.S. dollar on the street. (The official exchange rate is Z$824 to the U.S. dollar.)

Police this week detained four directors of the company publishing the nation's only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News.

They also detained a score of staffers and blocked access to the building housing the newspaper in an effort to prevent it from publishing - despite a court ruling that it should continue do so.

The World Council or Churches has added its "deep concerns" over the deteriorating situation, in particular the harassment of human rights campaigners and members of the judiciary.

It called for an end to the violence, intimidation, unlawful arrest and torture perpetrated by the police and militias linked to the ruling party.

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