JOHANNESBURG, 5 February (IRIN) - Deployment
of international observers for Zimbabwe's hotly contested presidential
election must happen before 9 February, the head of delegation for the
European Commission in Harare told IRIN.
While there were reports that a small team of European Union (EU) observers had already landed in Zimbabwe this was denied on Tuesday by Francesca Mosca, the head of delegation in Harare. Mosca is still finalising the list of names, and their availability or not, for the EU observer mission in Zimbabwe. As was demanded by President Robert Mugabe there will be no Britons among them.
Meanwhile, a team of Commonwealth secretariat staff members arrived in Harare on Tuesday to begin its preparations for election observers due in the country this week, the organisation said in a statement.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon announced in London: "I am pleased to have a team on the ground in Zimbabwe which will stay until the voting and counting in next month's election has been concluded."
The secretariat team is led by the director of the political affairs division, Jon Sheppard. It will seek meetings later this week with the electoral authorities, political parties, non-governmental organisations and others. It will also make arrangements for an advance group of observers, all of whom are expected to be in Harare by Monday, 11 February, the statement said. The main group of Commonwealth observers will follow later this month.
The EU has been awaiting a formal written invitation from Mugabe, who faces in opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai the first real political challenge to his 22 year rule. Said Mosca: "We do not yet have the written invitation from President Mugabe, but it was promised and I am confident we will get it." Mosca said deployment should happen a month before voting gets underway on 9 March, making it critical that Mugabe's invitation comes soon.
Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ministerial task force that visited Zimbabwe last week found that there was political "intolerance" between the parties but apparently no violence or intimidation.
This comes as independent Zimbabwean journalist Basildon Peta had spent a night in police cells for protesting against a repressive media bill. He was later released when his lawyer pointed out that he was being held illegally.
In a statement on Tuesday the executive secretary of SADC, Prega Ramsamy, said the task team had received briefings from Zimbabwe's Electoral Supervisory Commission, the Registrar General and the police during its 30-31 January visit.
Said Ramsamy: "The task force undertook a field visit to Matebeleland North and had the opportunity to meet with representatives of both the [ruling] ZANU-PF and [opposition Movement for Democratic Change] MDC. It was observed that there was an attitude of intolerance between the parties."
The task force, meanwhile, commended the Zimbabwean police "for the initiative they were pursuing to ensure an atmosphere of peace and security, especially in the build up to the presidential election".
The Zimbabwean police have been widely criticised for partisan behaviour and alleged harassment of independent journalists as well as opposition party leaders and supporters.
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