NAIROBI, Kenya – Foreign troops should prepare to intervene in Zimbabwe to end a worsening humanitarian crisis and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe should be investigated for crimes against humanity, the Kenyan prime minister said Sunday.
Raila Odinga, in the latest sign of growing international frustration over Zimbabwe's slide into chaos, urged the African Union to call an emergency meeting to authorize sending troops into Zimbabwe.
"If no troops are available, then the AU must allow the U.N. to send its forces into Zimbabwe with immediate effect, to take over control of the country and ensure urgent humanitarian assistance to the people dying of cholera," he said.
More than 500 Zimbabweans have officially died of the disease since an outbreak in August but health officials fear the toll may be much higher. They warn that deaths could spiral into the thousands due to the collapse of Zimbabwe's health system, the scarcity of food and the oncoming rainy season, which may help spread infections.
Odinga said Mugabe had reduced a once-prosperous country to a "basket case" and warned, "Mugabe's case deserves no less than investigations by the International Criminal Court at The Hague."
Odinga slammed other African leaders for being slow to criticize Zimbabwe, saying they had shamed the continent by treating Mugabe with "kid gloves" because Mugabe had supported their liberation struggles.
"We refuse to accept the idea that African countries should be judged by lesser standards than other countries in the world," Odinga said. "Participation in the liberation struggle is no license for anyone to own a country."
He declined to say whether Kenya was ready to send troops. The AU and U.N. are already over-stretched in Africa, unable to fulfill commitments in Sudan's Darfur region and Somalia.
Global criticism of Mugabe is growing louder. On Sunday former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and human rights campaigner Graca Machel released a report in Paris urging Zimbabwe's leaders to end their power-sharing impasse and concentrate on saving lives. The three members of group called The Elders were refused visas to enter Zimbabwe but interviewed aid workers, politicians and others for the report.
Machel is the wife of Elders founder Nelson Mandela, the former South African President. She said either Zimbabwe's leaders do not understand how deeply their people are suffering "or they don't care."
In America, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told ABC News that Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak endangered the whole of southern Africa and the international community was failing to protect the people of Zimbabwe.
"I am still really appalled at the inability of the international community to deal with tyrants," she said. "Robert Mugabe should have gone a long time ago."
Botswana's Foreign Minister Phandu Skelemani, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have all called on Mugabe to step down.
Although it was once one of Africa's most prosperous nations, Zimbabwe's economy has almost completely collapsed under Mugabe. Elections held last March were widely denounced for murderous attacks on the opposition, and Mugabe reluctantly joined a power-sharing government designed by international mediators. But negotiations on the distribution of cabinet positions have deadlocked.
At least a quarter of Zimbabwe's population has fled the country and many of those who remain are surviving on leaves and roots.