Southern African nations unhappy with Commonwealth

ABUJA (NIGERIA) DEC. 7. Several Southern African nations have made plain their dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Commonwealth has dealt with the Zimbabwe issue and are even contemplating abandoning this grouping of former British colonies.

Senior officials accompanying the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, told this correspondent that such opinions have been voiced not just within the Commonwealth summit sessions in Abuja, but also outside.

Whether or not these nations take this extreme step, the fact remains that Zimbabwe has created one of the most serious crises in the Commonwealth. Countries such as Britain and Australia, who have been leading the charge against Zimbabwe, have probably not understood the depth of dissatisfaction among Southern African nations.

The officials concede that even if a small group of nations decides to come out of the Commonwealth it would deal a major blow to the organisation as a whole, which has been struggling to find a role for itself.

The job assigned to the six-nation "contact group," including India, to arrive at a consensus on Zimbabwe's re-admission holds the key to the future wellbeing of the Commonwealth.

But officials familiar with the work of the group pointed out that Australia had taken an aggressive position in the sessions so far, while Canada had taken a more balanced view on the entire issue.

Though the Prime Minister left for home on Sunday morning due to the ongoing Parliament session, the External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, will represent India both in the contact group as well as the remaining part of the summit itself.

Briefing presspersons before Mr. Vajpayee's departure, the External Affairs Ministry spokesman said it had been decided to turn the Commonwealth Committee on Terrorism into a permanent one so that it could concentrate on the issue of capacity building.

Making an intervention on the issue of terrorism at the summit session on Friday, Mr. Vajpayee said the international community needed to find ways to make everyone comply with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. He also called for effective methods to choke the flow of funds to terrorist organisations.

According to the spokesman, apart from the three formal bilateral meetings the Prime Minister had with leaders of Ghana, Australia and Britain, he also had informal contacts with Heads of Government/State of South Africa, Lesotho, Guyana, Jamaica and Mauritius.

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