Zimbabwe: Global Church Body Plans to Monitor Polls As Westerners Barred

Geneva, Switzerland - The World Council of Churches is planning to monitor Zimbabwe's March 29 elections which the Catholic Church there says will neither be free nor fair.

At the same time, the government on Thursday announced a list of 47 observer groups, excluding European Union member states and the US.

The WCC Secretary General Samuel Kobia confirmed plans to monitor the elections to his UN counterpart, Ban Ki-moon, according to a statement released by the ecumenical body on Monday.

Zimbabweans will on 29 March choose a president, parliament and local councils. Strongman Robert Mugabe, widely blamed for the deep political and economic crisis that has reduced Zimbabweans to beggary, is seeking another term. He is 84. His challengers include former finance minister Simba Makoni.

Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengewi told diplomats that "Clearly, those who believe that the only free and fair election is where the opposition wins, have been excluded since the ruling party, ZANU-PF, is poised to score yet another triumph."

The United States and European Union both imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle after they alleged that he had rigged his re-election in 2002.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) deplored what it said was a biased selection of observer groups for the latest election. "This shows the government has a lot to hide," MDC secretary for legal affairs Innocent Gonese told AFP.

Last month, the Zimbabwean Catholic Justice and Peace Commission called for postponement of the elections, citing "inadequate preparation and voter education on the electoral process."

"There can be no excuse on anybody's part to argue that the elections should be postponed. All those who wanted to participate had plenty of time to prepare themselves," Foreign minister Mumbengewi said.