HARARE (AFP) – African leaders early Friday delivered a thinly veiled rebuke to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, after a security summit sharply demanded an end to political violence ahead of expected polls.
The security "Troika" of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) issued an unusually tough statement demanding an end to violence and respect for political freedoms, while reaffirming the key steps needed for new elections.
The final communique did not single out either party but affirmed concerns raised by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the long-time rival to 87-year-old Mugabe.
The summit also agreed to Tsvangirai's request for the SADC to lay out guidelines for new elections, while reiterating the need to first complete a new constitution to be approved in a referendum -- a process lagging nearly a year behind schedule.
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said it wanted the regional bloc to follow up the tough talk with action.
"We want the referee to have clear and concrete powers," said party spokesman Nelson Chamisa, referring to the SADC.
"Our referee has been a man of words, not the man who wields the yellow card as well as the red card."
"We expect the implementation and monitoring mechanisms to be strengthened," Chamisa said.
A spokesman for Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party said he needed to study the communique before he could react.
Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political scientist, said regional leaders appeared to be losing patience with Mugabe.
"SADC seems to be speaking in a different language, with a different tone," Masunungure said.
"The communique may not have named specific persons but they know the source of their frustration is ZANU-PF and President Mugabe who are refusing to implement agreed positions.
"They key question is whether ZANU-PF and President Mugabe are listening and whether they take the concerns of SADC seriously."
The pro-democracy alliance Crisis in Zimbabwe described the summit as a "victory for democratic progress."
Mugabe and Tsvangirai both attended the summit in the Zambian resort town of Livingstone, near the famed Victoria Falls, and had separate meetings with the participating presidents -- South Africa's Jacob Zuma, Mozambique's Armando Guebuza, Zambia's Rupiah Banda and Namibia's Hifikepunye Pohamba.
Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe's ZANU-PF party of stepping up a campaign of violence and intimidation against his supporters, including a wave of arrests of top party officials, activists and journalists.
In uncharacteristically sharp language, the summit's communique "expressed its impatience in the delay" in implementing the two-year-old power-sharing accord, which was meant to guarantee political freedoms.
"The summit noted with grave concern the polarisation of the political environment as characterized by, inter alia, resurgence of violence, arrest and intimidation in Zimbabwe," the statement said.
"There must be an immediate end of violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit" of the unity accord.
Both Tsvangirai and Mugabe have said they are ready for elections that would put an end to their unlikely unity government, formed in February 2009 in a bid to end rampant violence surrounding disputed 2008 elections and stem an economic crisis that saw hyperinflation hit world-record levels.
While the power-sharing government has succeeded in halting the economy's tailspin, mainly by ditching the local currency, Tsvangirai and Mugabe have repeatedly locked horns over implementing the deal.