NEW YORK // Western nations ratcheted up pressure against the dysfunctional regime of Robert Mugabe this week as the death toll from Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic approaches 1,000. Following a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council, David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, slammed Mr Mugabe's "denial of reality" in a regime beset by disease and economic collapse. UN officials warned that cholera deaths had risen to 978 on Monday, with 18,413 cases spread across nine of the African nation's 10 provinces and spilling across the borders into South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.
"The disease that has hit the headlines is cholera, but the disease at the heart of Zimbabwe is the disease of misrule and corruption," Mr Miliband told reporters outside the council chamber. Envoys, including Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, had heard Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, describe Zimbabwe's mounting woes, including a political stalemate, economic meltdown and a deadly cholera epidemic. "We continue to witness a failure of the leadership in Zimbabwe to address the political, economic, human rights and humanitarian crisis that is confronting the country," Mr Ban told delegates.
World health chiefs have described the "most serious outbreak of cholera ever registered in Zimbabwe" and called last week for US$600 million (Dh2.2 billion) to tackle an epidemic made worse by a crumbling sewerage system. Zimbabweans are reeling under the impact of successive failed harvests and many have reverted to living off handouts and overseas remittances amid an economic crisis and massive inflation. Mr Mugabe signed a power-sharing deal with Morgan Tsvangirai in mid-September after the opposition leader's electoral success in March, but the 84-year-old leader has shown little willingness to relinquish his 28-year-rule.
The African Union, the Southern African Development Community and regional heavyweight South Africa have all been criticised for failing to reign in Mr Mugabe, who has been hailed as a hero of post-colonial Africa. Security Council action has been equally problematic, with Russia and China uniting in a double-veto against a resolution calling for targeted sanctions against Mr Mugabe's power base in July - widely seen as a cynical bid to win favour among Africa's mineral-rich rulers. Mr Miliband acknowledged the council had witnessed months of "deep freeze" but said he hoped the 15-nation world-power body would "restart and continue to engage" Zimbabwe's resilient ruler. Sean McCormack, the US state department spokesman, said Washington has been talking to South African officials and other council members about igniting a "process that will bring an end to the tragedy". Some US officials have called for neighbouring African leaders to close their borders with Zimbabwe, thereby minimising the risk of cholera spreading and severing Mr Mugabe's regime of important trade links. But Africa's leaders have hitherto been reluctant to interfere in the sovereignty of a neighbour state.
Western diplomats had originally hoped Monday's meeting would result in a non-binding statement damning Mr Mugabe for his inability to tackle the cholera outbreak. But Ms Rice, the US foreign policy chief, said afterwards that the meeting was not meant "to have an outcome", while adding that it was "high time to do something about Zimbabwe". Some diplomats suggested western nations could renew their efforts to heap international scorn on Mr Mugabe next month when South Africa no longer sits on the security council as its term expires on Dec 31. email@example.com