- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Pressure on Mugabe

The United States is bringing pressure on Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe through criticism from the U.S. ambassador in the southern African nation and from State Department officials in Washington and through public diplomacy by highlighting the struggle of human rights activists under his authoritarian regime.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe continues to fall into chaos, with Mr. Mugabe ordering assaults on political opponents as his country teeters on the verge of collapse with unemployment at 80 percent and inflation at a staggering 1,700 percent.

Riot police and military helicopters patrolled the capital, Harare, yesterday on the opening of a two-day nationwide strike against economic conditions.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell this week criticized the leaders of neighboring African nations for failing to publicly denounce Mr. Mugabe. Presidents from the nations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) met with Mr. Mugabe privately last month but failed to issue any criticism of the Zimbabwean leader.

Mr. Dell, citing his own sources in the meeting, told the Associated Press that Mr. Mugabe acknowledged that his security forces had overreacted to an opposition meeting last month by severely beating Morgan Tsvangirai and other members of the Movement for Democratic Change.

The SADC leaders also complained in private about the brutality of Zimbabwe’s police and military but publicly issued a statement so bland that Mr. Mugabe was able to claim “total victory,” Mr. Dell said.

“None of this means anything, if in public they are going to say nothing and thereby let him control the story,” the ambassador said.

Mr. Dell added, “As far as we are aware, the wave of state-orchestrated violence — including abductions, beatings, torture and the unconfirmed but possible killings of [opposition] activists — continues unabated.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called Mr. Mugabe’s actions “outrageous.”

“The situation, obviously, in Zimbabwe can’t continue as it is,” Mr. McCormack said. “This is an economy that is in complete ruin, and there’s real suffering that’s ongoing as a result of the decrease in the level of human rights as well as democratic rights in the state.”

Earlier last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice focused on the fight for human rights by Jennifer Williams, founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise. She was one of 10 recipients of the International Women of Courage Award, and the State Department features her struggle on its Web site (usinfo.state.gov). Her organization counts 45,000 members.

“It is because of our united struggle, hand in hand, that we are going to get the Zimbabwe we want,” Mrs. Williams said.

She praised the support from the U.S. Embassy, especially when Mr. Dell sent diplomats to monitor a recent protest at Parliament, a simple action that intimidated police who otherwise would have beaten the demonstrators.

“So we think it is important for the diplomatic community to play a role in helping us achieve our struggle. We can do it ourselves, but it helps when the Mugabe authorities know the world is watching.”

Passport alert

The State Department is working overtime to process a record number of passports to meet the spring travel demands of Americans.

The department issued 412,000 passports during the last week of March, which surpassed the 379,000 approved the previous week. Employees at the nation’s 17 passport agencies are working overtime daily and on weekends, and 10,000 other State Department employees are volunteering to help.

The National Passport Information Center at 877/487-2778 is available on weekends and during extended weekday hours from 6 a.m. to midnight, EST.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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