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Goff Announces Zimbabwe Election Observers

Former High Commissioners to Zimbabwe Chris Laidlaw and Bruce Middleton will be New Zealand’s representatives on the Commonwealth Observer Group for the presidential election in that country, Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff announced today.

“Zimbabwe was the major focus of meetings with southern African leaders during my visit to South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana earlier this month.

“They stressed how important it was to get as many observers as possible on the ground as quickly as possible to observe the run-up to the election as well as the actual voting on 9-10 March.

“We need to do all we can to ensure that the process is as free and fair as possible.

“The Commonwealth Secretariat asked New Zealand and other contributors to provide two observers for its mission. Chris and Bruce, New Zealand’s first and last High Commissioners resident in Harare, are eminently well qualified for this task.

“Chris Laidlaw was a member of the Commonwealth Observer Group at the Zimbabwe parliamentary elections in June 2000.

“I have written to the Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon setting out the views I formed in discussions with people in southern Africa about the way the Commonwealth Observer Group is to operate.

“Unless observers are totally free and able to carry out their duties in areas where intimidation is likely to be taking place, there will be limited purpose in their deployment.

“The integrity of the observer presence in Zimbabwe has already been undermined by the Zimbabwe government’s veto on the presence of observers from a number of countries, including the Swedish chair of the European Union group, Pierre Schori.

“The occupation of the commercial farms and displacement and intimidation of the farm workers also raises the question as to whether the elections can be free enough for the result to be regarded as properly reflecting majority will.

“The deliberate disenfranchisement of so many Zimbabweans, including as I outlined yesterday, Sir Garfield Todd, already raises questions that the election will amount to little more than a pretence of democracy.

“Notwithstanding these factors, it is still important that New Zealand makes a strong effort to have observers there, both as a restraint against ongoing intimidation and to report on the validity of the result,” Mr Goff said.

Ends

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