African leaders in slow lane over Zimbabwe

On the opening day of the G8 Summit in Japan, African leaders attending the talks appeared to ask for virtually nothing of their G8 counterparts in discussions aimed at easing the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Comments made by a Japanese Government spokesperson earlier today, Yazuo Yodama, indicated that the leaders, including Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, failed to call for urgent action from the G8 nations to help bring an end to the crisis.

Further, the spokesperson added that, 'Some African leaders mentioned that we should bear in mind that Mr Mugabe will retire in a few years. Putting pressure on Zimbabwe, including sanctions, might lead to internal conflict. We should be discreet and careful.'

The African leaders pointed to the need for a government of national unity. However, church workers at the forefront of aid effort in the country, criticised this suggestion earlier today, instead calling for a transitional Government.

A spokesman from the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA), a Tearfund partner in the country, said, 'A government of national unity dismisses the will of the people. They want change, as demonstrated in the March election. We need a government that will put the needs of our people first.

'What's needed is for African and G8 leaders to urgently appoint a team of mediators to facilitate a transitional government, to pave the way to free and fair elections. Anything less would only serve to legitimise the Mugabe regime.'

Speaking at the summit in Japan, Peter Grant, Tearfund International Director said, 'It is unacceptable that ordinary people in Zimbabwe continue to suffer in the face of apparent African and G8 inaction.

'We strongly back our partner's call for transitional arrangements, leading to a permanent government that truly represents the will of the people.'

Talks on Zimbabwe continue at the G8 today.

The United Nations estimates that 5 million people - approximately half the population of Zimbabwe - will require food aid over the next 9 months. However, many aid agencies have been ordered to cease their operations by the Government.

For interviews in Japan, London or Zimbabwe please contact:

JAPAN: Abby King on 00 81 (0) 80 2910 1396

LONDON: Rebecca Taylor on 020 8943 7986 or 07949 181414