U.S. Presses U.N for Sanctions Against Zimbabwe's Mugabe

The U.S. pressed fellow U.N. Security Council members Wednesday to impose sanctions to push for change in Zimbabwe, where leaders cannot agree whether to even talk about how to resolve their crisis amid fears of worsening political violence.

A draft resolution Washington wants the council to consider proposes freezing the financial assets of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and 11 of his officials and banning them from traveling outside the country.

The text, obtained by The Associated Press, also demands that Mugabe's regime immediately begin negotiations on forming a unity government with the opposition, although Zimbabwe's top opposition leader ruled out talks under current conditions.

The U.S., which is among Mugabe's sharpest international critics, is president of the Security Council this month. Last week, the council passed a nonbinding resolution condemning violence against Zimbabwe's political opposition after South Africa, China and Russia opposed taking further action.

Washington also is considering toughening its unilateral sanctions. The U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, said in an interview Wednesday that could include expanding the list of about 130 officials now banned from visiting the U.S. and hit with financial penalties.

European Union spokesman John Clancy said the bloc also was studying sanctions to add to travel bans and an asset freeze already in place on Mugabe, his Cabinet ministers and top ruling party officials. New penalties could include further aid cuts or bars on European companies from doing business in Zimbabwe.

The United States and Europe say opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai should be Zimbabwe's next leader, but Mugabe has shown little sign of yielding power after 28 years as president.

Tsvangirai finished ahead of three other candidates in the first round of presidential voting March 29, setting up a runoff with Mugabe, who was second. But state-supported violence against opposition supporters led Tsvangirai to quit the race days before Friday's ballot.

Mugabe went ahead with the vote despite international condemnation. He was declared the overwhelming winner Sunday and immediately held an inauguration ceremony to begin his sixth term as president.

The U.S. ambassador said violence and intimidation continues, even touching an embassy employee.

McGee said a Zimbabwean driver for the embassy disappeared three days ago. The man emerged Wednesday to say he had been accosted by unknown assailants, blindfolded and taken to a small room where he was questioned and denied food or water for three days.

The envoy would not describe the questions, but said the incident appeared to be an attempt to try to intimidate people connected with the embassy. McGee has been a vocal and frequent critic of Mugabe.

"The violence seems to be at least at the same level (as before the runoff). It may even be getting worse," McGee said in an interview. "We've heard stories, unconfirmed, of hit lists. But we do know for a fact that people are being murdered. People continue to disappear."

Tsvangirai told reporters that at least nine of his supporters had been killed and hundreds beaten and forced to flee their homes just since Friday's vote. He had said previously that nearly 90 supporters were killed in the weeks before the runoff.

Speaking outside his home in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, Tsvangirai also said his group would not participate in talks on forming a unity government with Mugabe's party unless another outside mediator was appointed to work alongside South African President Thabo Mbeki.

On Tuesday, an African Union summit reconfirmed Mbeki as Africa's mediator, even though Tsvangirai has repeatedly rejected him, accusing him of pro-Mugabe bias. Mugabe has praised Mbeki.

"Our reservations about the mediation process under President Mbeki are well known," said Tsvangirai, head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. "Unless the mediation team is expanded ... and the mediation mechanism is changed, no meaningful progress can be made toward resolving the Zimbabwe crisis."

"If this does not happen, then the MDC will not be part of the mediation process," he said.

The opposition, "as the winner of the last credible elections on March 29, 2008, should be recognized as the legitimate government of Zimbabwe," Tsvangirai added.

Late Tuesday, Mbeki told South Africa's state broadcaster he sees his role as merely helping Zimbabweans resolve the crisis themselves and he rejected outside intervention such as calls from European nations to void the runoff as a sham election.

"Certainly the African continent has not made any prescription about the outcome of what Zimbabweans should negotiate among themselves," Mbeki said.

Mbeki has been criticized for refusing to publicly condemn Mugabe. Other African leaders have been more vocal, with some even calling for Mugabe to step down. But Wednesday, Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika sided with Mbeki, who has said confrontation could backfire.

Western governments in particular "have been condemning Zimbabwe for the last four years. They have been condemning Mugabe for the last four years," Mutharika told reporters in Malawi. "But has it solved anything? Ask yourself, all that condemnation, has it solved anything? It has not ... ."