Zimbabwe, South Africa happy sanctions failed; MDC reaction muted

Both Zimbabwe and South Africa welcomed the failure of threatened sanctions on Zimbabwe to pass muster in the United Nations Security Council with the government of President Robert Mugabe hailing the outcome as a defeat for "international racism."

Zimbabwe's Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu was quoted by South Africa's public SABC broadcaster as saying Zimbabwe was "very happy" at the turn of events and thanking those who had helped defeat "international racism disguised as multilateral action at the UN."

Also welcoming Friday's Security Council vote, South Africa said sanctions might have been detrimental to the talks between Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change of Morgan Tsvangirai taking place in Pretoria, the dpa reported.

On Thursday, representatives of Zanu-PF and representatives of two factions of the divided Movement for Democratic Change began exploratory talks in Pretoria on a powersharing arrangement. The MDC said the talks were merely aimed at agreeing on the conditions for substantive talks.

South Africa was one of the Security Council members which voted against the sanctions, that would have included an arms embargo on Zimbabwe as well as an asset freeze and travel restrictions on Mugabe and 13 other senior officials.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki is Africa's long-standing mediator in Zimbabwe.

Russia and China, two of five veto-holding powers on the council, also opposed the sanctions.

Russia's veto came despite Russia agreeing, at a summit of Group of Eight wealthy nations during the week, to a resolution calling for financial and other measures against those responsible for violence in Zimbabwe in the run-up to a Mugabe-only election on June 27.

An apparently exasperated British Foreign Secretary David Miliband termed Russia's stance at the UN as "incomprehensible."

Explaining South Africa's position, foreign affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said: "It is our considered view that imposing sanctions would indeed have impacted negatively on the current process among the Zimbabwean political parties."

"In addition both SADC (the Southern African Development Community) and AU (African Union) have not called for sanctions."

A summit of AU leaders in Egypt recently called on Mugabe and Tsvangirai to form a unity government after Mugabe was returned to power in the June 27 presidential run-off election, which the MDC and the West dismissed as a "sham."

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted the run-off over a spate of state-backed militia attacks on his supporters that has killed over 110 people since March elections his party won.

Three African observer teams also slammed the vote as violent and not representative of the will of Zimbabweans.

Reacting to Friday's vote to the United States-proposed, British- backed sanctions, the MDC tried to sound an upbeat note.

"The Movement for Democratic Change appreciates the focus of the United Nation Security Council on the Zimbabwean crisis," the party said in a statement.

The ball was now in the court of the AU and SADC "in establishing the framework in which a negotiated solution can be formulated," the MDC added.

South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a vocal critic of Mugabe, meanwhile, expressed frustration that most African leaders had remained mum on Mugabe's regime.

Only a handful of African countries have said they refuse to recognize his rule.

Speaking during a visit to England, Tutu said: "Obviously it would have been wonderful if there had been unanimous condemnation by all the leaders of Africa, but politicians are politicians."

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