In an apparent response to Botswana’s military build up along the Zimbabwean border, Robert Mugabe this week warned neighbouring countries to ‘think twice’ before launching an attack against his regime.
SWRadioAfrica, a radio station run by exiled Zimbabweans broadcasting to Zimbabwe from the UK, quoted analysts saying Mugabe’s statement could be viewed as a direct threat to Botswana, who last week deployed an army brigade with artillery to patrol its border with Zimbabwe. Botswana described the troop movement as ‘a precaution’ against trouble spilling over into the country.
Relations between Botswana and Zimbabwe came to an all time low at the African Union Summit in Egypt on Tuesday, when Foreign Affairs Minister Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe refused to recognize Mugabe’s stolen election win.
On Friday Presidential Affairs Minister Phandu Skelemani reiterated calls for Mugabe’s regime to be suspended from the AU and the 14-nation SADC community.
Skelemani told reporters at a press conference that as a country that practices democracy and the rule of law, Botswana does not recognize the outcome of Zimbabwe’s presidential run-off election, and would expect other SADC member states to do the same.
Speaking to his bussed in ‘supporters’ on his arrival home on Friday, Mugabe warned his neighbours to be careful about provoking his government;
“If there are some who may want to fight us, they should think twice. We don’t intend to fight any neighbours. We are a peaceful country, but if there is a country, a neighbouring country that is itching for a fight, ah, then let them try it.”
President Ian Khama has become increasingly critical of Mugabe’s rule and the problems it has caused in neighbouring countries.
A military analyst told SWRadioAfrica’s Newsreel programme that in the unlikely event of a war situation, Mugabe’s army would struggle to sustain a battle, due to a number of factors.
”The country’s airpower is almost ground to a halt due to lack of spare parts, soldiers’ morale is low because of poor serving conditions and the state of the economy limits the extent of how long the country can sustain a war.
Currently, the army is sending its soldiers on forced leave due to food shortages in army barracks. These are all factors that constrain its operations,” the analyst said.
Since independence, Zimbabwe has been involved in two wars, both guerrilla and counter insurgencies against MNR rebels who were fighting the Mozambican government and in the DRC, propping up the late Laurent Kabila’s government against rebels sponsored by Uganda and Rwanda.
The United States of America, European Union and Nigeria this week joined the fray in support of Botswana’s position while South Africa, which has dithered on the Zimbabwean issue, remained non committal alongside China, which recently attempted to ship armaments to the troubled country, and Russia.
Seeking to force Mugabe into negotiations with the opposition, the United States formally proposed United Nations Security Council sanctions on Zimbabwe, including an international arms embargo and punitive measures against the 14 people it deemed most responsible for undermining the presidential election through violence.
Besides Mugabe, those singled out Thursday in the draft resolution to be subject to an international travel ban and a freeze on personal assets include the chiefs of the various branches of the Zimbabwean armed forces, the governor of the central bank, the head of the Justice Ministry and the presidential spokesman.
“We want to respond to the situation and respond in a way that encourages a move toward resolving the legitimacy crisis without negatively impacting the people of Zimbabwe who are suffering a great deal at the hands of the regime,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The United States expects to bring the resolution to a vote as early as this coming week, he said. The mood around the council chamber was noncommittal, with even previously outspoken opponents to further UN interference, particularly South Africa, saying they would have to consult with their governments.
Although passage is not assured, the United States has apparently mustered enough support to garner nine of the 15 votes needed to approve the resolution. China and Russia, which have generally supported the position that this is an African problem that ought to be dealt with locally, could still veto it. Russia is considered unlikely to do so, diplomats noted, and China might feel pressured to avoid vetoing sanctions because of criticism of its own human rights record in the prelude to the Olympics.
Mugabe was elected to his sixth term more than a week ago after his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, dropped out of a runoff election because state-sponsored enforcers were beating and killing his followers. Tsvangirai won 48 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Mugabe in the election March 29.
In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union would seek “all possible sanctions” against Zimbabwe and Mugabe.
“We will take up the issue again within the EU, under the leadership of the French presidency,” Merkel said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We will think up all possible sanctions and check to see what more we can do, such as travel bans for members of Mugabe’s regime.”
The EU, which is calling for new elections, said Friday that it was ready to consider “appropriate measures” against those responsible for violence in Zimbabwe, but did not elaborate, the Associated Press reported.
Criticism also came Friday from Nigeria.
“We express our strong displeasure at the process leading to the election and its outcome,” the Nigerian Foreign Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, said, according to Reuters.