Fellow African leaders showed little willingness to stand up to President Robert Mugabe and condemn the longtime Zimbabwe ruler's disputed, violent reign Sunday ahead of his arrival at an African Union summit.
Despite international calls to isolate Mugabe, the AU readied to welcome him as a legitimate head of state.
"It will be none of this summit's business to choose the titles for leaders, it is the business of this summit to see what we are going to do for the suffering people and masses in Africa," Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe remarked when asked if he would address Mugabe as president.
Mugabe was inaugurated Sunday after declaring victory in a presidential run-off election from which the opposition dropped out, citing violence against its supporters.
A draft resolution written by African foreign ministers during two days of talks ahead of the AU summit, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, did not criticize the elections or Mugabe. It condemned violence in general terms and called for dialogue.
At least 86 people have died in election-related violence and some 200,000 people have been driven from their homes.
Participants may push for power-sharing
Participants in the meetings at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh said Mugabe would not be publicly condemned. Instead, they said fellow Africans would gently urge him to engage in some sort of power sharing agreement, such as the one in Kenya which ended bloodshed there after flawed elections.
"I think the strategy of the Zimbabwe government is to put Zimbabwe in front of everyone else since not everyone has clean hands on this continent," said Delphine Lecoutre, an Ethiopia-based expert on the African Union familiar with the closed door discussions.
Zimbabwe is far from Africa's only experience with flawed elections. The summit's host nation, Egypt, is often criticized by international rights groups for jailing dissidents to President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 27-year rule.
Mugabe has led Zimbabwe for 28 years, since the country's independence from Britain in 1980.
Western condemnation of the nationalist hero-turned-dictator, which includes threats of sanctions from the United States, could prompt other African nations to rally around him.
"I think Mugabe is going to play on that and this is Africa versus the rest of the world, and we don't want lessons from the outside," Lecoutre said.
Opposition wants AU to send peacekeepers
One group with some authority to confront Mugabe, the Southern African Development Council, has emerged after Zimbabwe's runoff elections as hopelessly divided, postponing its final report on the runoff election because members could not agree on its contents.
Zimbabwe's opposition has called on the African Union to take a larger role in mediating the crisis, partly due to its dissatisfaction with SADC, and particularly South Africa.
The Movement for Democratic Change's Vice President Thokozani Khupe called on the AU to send a dedicated envoy to Zimbabwe to supplement Mbeki's role as well as peacekeepers to halt the violence.
Khupe told the AP on Sunday that she had met with several delegations from southern and eastern Africa on the sidelines of the summit, and that they had backed her call.
"There is a good commitment from the leaders we have met," Khupe said. "They are saying they will support that (initiative) but at the moment there are no specifics."
Rantane Lamamra of the AU's key Peace and Security Commission, however, dismissed the notion that peacekeepers would be heading to Zimbabwe anytime soon, especially with the current missions in Darfur and elsewhere.
"We were talking about Somalia and the difficulties of mobilizing troops there, so I hope there will be no need to intervene in Zimbabwe or any other country in Africa," he said.