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Kenya's leader urges peacekeepers in Zimbabwe

  • Story Highlights
  • Kenya's prime minister says international force could guarantee free, fair elections
  • Says Zimbabwea's situation an eyesore for Africa
  • Critics say President Mugabe beating, jailing the opposition
  • U.S. official Condoleeza Rice says Zimbabwe's elections an international matter
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Kenya's prime minister Wednesday called for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed in Zimbabwe to ensure free and fair elections.

Appearing at a State Department news conference beside U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has made a "sham" of the presidential election by harassing and arresting members of the opposition.

Rice did not respond specifically to the call for a peacekeeping force but said she will be co-chairing a United Nations meeting on Zimbabwe on Thursday to bring more attention to the matter.

"This is, in our view, a matter for the international community to deal with," she said.

Calling the situation in Zimbabwe "an eyesore for the African continent," Odinga said, "It is a big embarrassment that a leader can say on the eve of an election that he cannot hand over power to an opponent, that he can only hand over power to a member of his political party."

Odinga said it is impossible to have a free and fair election when members of the opposition are being beat up and put in jail with charges of treason, as is happening in Zimbabwe.

"My view is that the time has come for the international community to act on Zimbabwe in a way they acted in Bosnia," he said.

Rice said the United States is "very concerned" about the situation in Zimbabwe, not only for the people there but also for the upcoming election.

"It's very difficult when you have the kind of intimidation that is going on," she said.

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She called on African leaders such as South African President Thabo Mbeki to send a strong message to Mugabe.

"I think it is its time for the leaders of the Africa to say to President Mugabe that the people of Zimbabwe deserve a free and fair election," she said, "that you do not intimidate opponents, you do not put opponents in jail, you cannot threaten them with charges of treason and be respected in the international community."

Hoping to head off election violence, a high-ranking U.N. official met Wednesday with Zimbabwe's opposition party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, a party spokesman said.

Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Nelson Chamisa said Tsvangirai and U.N. envoy Haile Menkerios spoke about election-related violence at the meeting.

U.N. officials could not be immediately reached to confirm the meeting. But a U.N. news release last week announcing the trip said the purpose of Menkerios' visit is "to try to resolve tensions ahead of the run-off round of the presidential election set for later this month."

Mugabe faces Tsvangirai in the June 27 run-off, after neither candidate won an outright majority in the March 29 election.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour recently voiced outrage at reports that many activists linked to Tsvangirai's opposition party have been killed in recent weeks. She also spoke out against the reported harassment of human rights defenders and nongovernmental organization staff members.

Chamisa said these issues were discussed during the meeting with Menkerios.

"We discussed violence, militia maiming opposition supporters. ... Guns must be taken away from the electoral politics. The militia that set up torture camps must be disbanded," said Chamisa. "Our polling agents are being displaced, maimed and killed. They need security."

Mugabe and other Zimbabwean government leaders have denied that the government has anything to do with the violence and said Tsvangirai's party is spreading false stories to get international support.

All About ZimbabweRobert MugabeRaila OdingaCondoleezza Rice

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