"Loud diplomacy is no diplomacy": Mbeki defends Zimbabwe stance

(dpa) - South African President Thabo Mbeki defended his "quiet diplomacy" approach in Zimbabwe saying that "loud diplomacy" was no diplomacy and that his "no crisis" assessment had been misinterpreted, South African radio reported Thursday.

"This story I said there was no crisis in Zimbabwe ... I haven't the slightest clue where it comes from," Mbeki said following a special UN Security Council session in New York, where African leaders were pressed to act on the post-election impasse in Zimbabwe.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mbeki said his declaration in the Zimbabwean capital Harare at the weekend that there was no crisis was in response to a question about "the elections ... not about the socio-economic conditions or anything like that."

Mbeki, SADC's mediator in Zimbabwe, has been under fire in recent days for downplaying the tensions in South Africa's neighbour to the north.

Examining criticism of his softly-softly approach to autocratic Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Mbeki asked: "What is loud diplomacy? Well it is not diplomacy, it can't be."

While some countries "may shout," southern African countries had a responsibility to try to broker agreement between Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Mbeki said.

"I am quite certain it would be wrong for us to be shouting at the ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission)," he said.

Nineteen days after Zimbabweans voted in presidential elections the state-controlled ZEC is refusing to release the results.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai claims he won the presidency, but Mugabe's party says neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe won outright and that a runoff is needed.

"The credibility of the democratic process in Africa could be at stake here," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council meeting on UN-African cooperation.

"If there is a second round of elections, they must be conducted in a fair and transparent manner, with international observers."

Mbeki's remarks about "loud diplomacy" appeared aimed at British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, leader of Zimbabwe's former colonial power, who warned Mugabe against stealing the election.

"A stolen election would not be an election at all," Brown said in New York.

A close aide to Mugabe reacted angrily to Brown's remarks accusing Britain of bribing election officials to achieve "regime change" and Brown of treating Zimbabwe like a colony.

"We tell him (Brown) clearly and without ambiguity that we are not a colony of the British," Patrick Chinamasa, who was reappointed justice minister by Mugabe despite the poll outcome being unknown, said in remarks reported by the state-controlled Herald newspaper.

Meanwhile, police in South Africa said they had cleared a Chinese ship carrying weapons, allegedly for Zimbabwe, to dock in the port of Durban.

"There are arms on the vessel and the ship is on the outer anchorage of the port and it's been docked here since April 14," a spokesman for the police explosives unit in Durban told SAPA news agency.

An customs official told SAPA on Wednesday there was a shipment destined for Zimbabwe.

It was not possible to immediately verify the report with Zimbabwean authorities.

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