A leader of the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe has urged the international community to intervene in the southern African nation, following the decision of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the presidential runoff, citing escalating violence against his supporters - write Stephen Brown and David Wanless.
"We need peace monitors that make sure we have a stable environment to stop this violence and madness that [President Robert] Mugabe is orchestrating," Prosper Munatsi, general secretary of the SCMZ, said in a 23 June interview in Geneva.
Munatsi was speaking before reports emerged from the Zimbabewan capital that Tsvangirai had sought refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare, citing fears about his safety.
"The people of Zimbabwe have tried everything in their power democratically and peaceably in a non-violent way, and they have exhausted all the channels," said Munatsi, who was in Geneva to brief the World Student Christian Federation, of which the SCMZ is a part.
"We believe the international community must intervene to stop this violence and madness, and the war that has been waged against the innocent and defenceless people of Zimbabwe," added Munatsi, whom Zimbabwean police detained earlier in June, when they raided the Ecumenical Centre in Harare, which houses the offices of the SCMZ and other church groups.
The presidential runoff was due to be between Tsvangirai, who heads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, and Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African country since independence in 1980.
Tsvangirai came top in the first round of voting on 29 March but according to official results that the MDC has disputed, failed to gain an overall majority of more than 50 per cent of votes, thus leading to the runoff scheduled for 27 June.
In a statement released in Harare on 22 June, and announcing that Tsvangirai would not contest the runoff, the MDC said that Mugabe and his supporters had been, "waging a war against the people of Zimbabwe" since the March poll. "This violent retributive agenda has seen over 200 000 people internally displaced and over 86 MDC supporters killed," the MDC said.
Munatsi said Tsvangirai had made, "the right decision" in the interests of Zimbabwe. "It was the right thing to do because he valued the lives of the people of Zimbabwe first, before any political ambitions," said the student leader.
The SCMZ official added, "His withdrawal may not change the political situation in the short term but we believe there must be a framework for free and fair elections."
Separately, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa has announced that it is to send a delegation to Zimbabwe to show solidarity with church members there. The denomination, which has its headquarters in South Africa, has congregations in five southern African countries, including Zimbabwe.
Announcing the visit, the church's general secretary, the Rev. Prince Dibeela, condemned, "the repeated detention of MDC leaders and the violence that has been generally taking place in all areas of the country".
The team being sent to Zimbabwe will be made up of church leaders from Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.
Commenting after Tsvangerai's withdrawal, Dibeela expressed regret that voters were not able to cast their ballots freely and without fear, and said that the elections could not be said to reflect the will of the people. He added, "We will continue to be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe, when peace and justice are restored, and the work of reconstruction can begin."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]