But no pressure on Mugabe

DAR ES SALAAM - Southern African leaders yesterday began an emergency summit to discuss the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe.

DAR ES SALAAM - Southern African leaders yesterday began an emergency summit to discuss the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe.

Host Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete met Robert Mugabe after his arrival on Wednesday night. He said the meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) would not put pressure on the embattled president.

"Pressure? We are in a meeting not pressure," Kikwete said.

Leaders gathered this week as Zimbabwean police raided the headquarters of the main opposition party, increasing calls for the summit to speak out against Mugabe.

Three SADC countries charged with dealing with Zimbabwe - Tanzania, Namibia and Angola - met behind closed doors late on Wednesday.

South African President Thabo Mbeki yesterday held bilateral talks with President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila.

The summit was expected to address the situation in the DRC after deadly clashes last week between the military and militia loyal to former vice-president and ex-rebel chief Jean Pierre Bemba, that claimed between 200 and 500 lives, according to the German ambassador in Kinshasa.

"Mbeki and Kabila met and discussed the violence in Kinshasa. Whatever they agreed on will be presented to the heads of states," a Congolose government official said.

Bemba is staying at the South African embassy in Kinshasa.

The 14-nation SADC is aimed at promoting development and democracy in the region.

In the raids in Zimbabwe on opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) headquarters on Tuesday and Wednesday 35 people were arrested as part of an investigation into several recent firebombings which the police blame on the MDC.

While Western nations have sharply condemned Mugabe since opposition leaders were arrested and then assaulted ahead of a planned anti-government rally earlier this month, SADC countries have been more muted in their response, even though they have most to lose from the fallout.

Apart from the political unrest, an inflation rate of 1730percent and unemployment of 80percent has led about 3million Zimbabweans to emigrate and caused the virtual collapse of an important market for the region.

The director of Amnesty International's Africa programme, Kolawole Olaniyan, said: "SADC leaders meeting in Tanzania must now send an unequivocal message to the government of Zimbabwe that human rights violations in that country will no longer be tolerated."

Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party plans to announce today, after his return from Dar es Salaam, whether it will support extending his term until 2010 to hold simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections.

Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi's presidents, Lesotho's prime minister and Botswana's vice-president are also taking part in the talks . - Sapa-AFP