JOHANNESBURG, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Southern African nations must intervene more decisively to end Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other prominent world figures said on Monday.
Describing Zimbabwe as close to a humanitarian disaster, Annan urged the Southern African Development Community's leaders to pressure President Robert Mugabe and the opposition MDC to break a deadlock blocking the formation of a unity government.
"SADC must bring its full weight to bear," Annan, flanked by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and human rights campaigner Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela, told a news conference.
"I think it is clear that SADC should have done more."
Annan, Carter and Machel, part of a group called the Elders, were barred from entering Zimbabwe last weekend on a humanitarian visit. Mugabe's government denied them visas, saying the visit was unnecessary.
A deepening economic crisis, marked by chronic food shortages and soaring hyperinflation, has prompted millions of Zimbabweans to flee the country. A cholera epidemic has killed around 300 people and sent hundreds more into South Africa.
Talks on sharing power between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have bogged down over control of key ministries and the rivals' parties are due to resume talks in South Africa on Tuesday.
Machel welcomed South Africa's move to withhold some $28 million in food aid to Zimbabwe to apply pressure.
"That's a good tone. Maybe other SADC nations should consider doing the same," Machel said.
BEYOND "WAIT AND SEE"
South Africa's ruling ANC party leader Jacob Zuma criticised Harare's decision to block the Elders as an "unfortunate act". President Kgalema Motlanthe said his government had asked Mugabe for an explanation but received no response.
Zuma and Motlanthe urged a quick end to Zimbabwe's crisis.
"The situation has just gone beyond a situation where we could say 'wait and see,'" Zuma told reporters. He said the Elders had told him Zimbabwe could be months from collapse.
Carter said the crisis was worse than he had imagined and he felt southern African leaders did not fully understand the extent of the misery in the once-prosperous nation.
He said the United Nations, African Union and SADC should send teams into Zimbabwe to properly report the crisis.
Opposition leader Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe, who won a June presidential election boycotted by Tsvangirai because of violence, of trying to relegate the MDC to the role of a junior partner in the government.
Mugabe has raised the hackles of the opposition with a plan to push through a constitutional amendment allowing him to name a cabinet alone, a move that could wreck the power-sharing deal.
Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF, Tsvangirai's MDC and a smaller MDC faction are due to meet with mediator Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's former president, on Tuesday. Mbeki has mediated the crisis since 2007 under a SADC mandate.
South Africa's ruling African National Congress, backed by Mugabe during its decades-long struggle to overthrow apartheid, will also send a delegation to Zimbabwe to assess the situation, Zuma said.
(Writing by Marius Bosch and Paul Simao; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)
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