Botswana: Close borders with Zimbabwe

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) -- Zimbabwe's neighbors should close their borders in an attempt to bring down President Robert Mugabe, Botswana's foreign minister said Wednesday in the strongest call yet for action from Africa.

Foreign Minister Phandu Skelemani told BBC World News television that southern African nations have failed to move Mugabe with mediation and they should now impose sanctions.

The leaders should "tell Mugabe to his face, 'Look, now you are on your own, we are switching off, we are closing your borders,' and I don't think he would last. If no petrol went in for a week, he can't last," Skelemani said.

Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said Wednesday that "no progress" is being made in a new round of talks that started Tuesday and that Mugabe and his party's "intransigence to date is making that (agreement) appear increasingly unlikely."

Zimbabwe's government made no immediate comment.

The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, also called for Africans to be more forceful.

"The most important pressure will come from this region," he told the annual dinner of the Commercial Farmers' Union of white farmers, most of whom have been forced from their land in government-sanctioned seizures.

The Southern African Development Community and the African Union "need to stand up and force there to be respect for the will of the people," McGee said.

Botswana and Zambia have been lonely African voices against Mugabe as Zimbabwe has been engulfed in an economic and political crisis in which agriculture, health and education services have collapsed and shortages of food, clean water, medicine, electricity and fuel have become routine.

The U.N. says 5 million Zimbabweans face imminent starvation - half the population of a country that used to export food.

South Africa began taking a harder line last week, announcing it was withholding 30 million rand ($3.3 million) in agricultural aid until Mugabe forms a coalition government with the opposition. But it appears unlikely to heed Botswana's call to close its border for fear of creating a wider humanitarian crisis.

An outbreak of cholera among hundreds of Zimbabweans has spread to Botswana and South Africa, whose health minister Wednesday called the situation "dire."

Asked about Zimbabwean claims that cholera is under control, Health Minister Barbara Hogan said there is no recognized government in Zimbabwe.

Her comments are another sign of growing South African impatience with Mugabe, especially since former President Thabo Mbeki was ousted by party officials who appear more sympathetic to Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai called Wednesday for Mbeki to retire from the Zimbabwe talks, charging his "partisan support" for Mugabe's party has made it impossible to continue negotiating under his mediation.

The latest talks are aimed at getting agreement on wording of a constitutional amendment that would form the legal basis for a unity government with Tsvangirai as prime minister.

But Tsvangirai's party wants to negotiate the sharing of Cabinet posts. Mugabe's party, according to secretary-general Kumbirai Kangai, is prepared only to give them the finance ministry among key portfolios and to share the post of home affairs. That ministry is responsible for police who helped brutalize opposition supporters during campaigns around disputed presidential elections this year.

Mugabe, who has unilaterally given his own party all the main Cabinet posts, indicated his continuing hard stance Wednesday through a state media announcement extending central bank head Gideon Gono's tenure for another five years.

Tsvangirai said that showed "lack of good faith" and denounced Gono as "the architect of Zimbabwe's economic collapse." He said Gono "has blatantly plundered the national treasury to fund (Mugabe's party) and its elite."

Mugabe's lack of good faith also is reflected in the continued abductions of opposition party members, Tsvangirai said, including the disappearance of 15 members detained 27 days ago.

The United States tried Tuesday to increase pressure on Mugabe by adding four of his "cronies" to a list of scores of associates under financial sanctions.

Tsvangirai won March elections in which his party ended the 28-year domination of Parliament by Mugabe's party. But officials results said he did not win outright, and he withdrew from a runoff because of state-sponsored violence that put thousands of his supporters in the hospital and made more homeless as tens of thousands of homes were burned.


Associated Press Writer Angus Shaw contributed to this report from Harare, Zimbabwe.

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