Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president, has warned other African states against interfering in his country following uncharacteristically frank criticism of his government by three southern African leaders.

“We are a sovereign state and as a sovereign state we don’t accept any interference and even our neighbours should not tell us what to do,” Mr Mugabe said.

He was reacting to criticism from the leaders of South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia at last week’s meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s so-called security troika which urged Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party to end its crackdown on political opponents. The SADC troika said: “There must be an immediate end to violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of dialogue [with the other party in his ruling coalition].”

The SADC leaders were responding to the escalation of political violence in the country including the arrest of human rights activists and members of the Movement for Democratic Change party of Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister, , including Elton Mangoma, the energy minister.

Mr Mugabe responded: “The facilitator [Jacob Zuma, the South African president] is the facilitator and must facilitate dialogue. He cannot prescribe anything. We prescribe what we should do in accordance with our laws and our agreement.”

The state-owned Sunday Mail which reflects the thinking of Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, lashed out at Mr Zuma describing his “erratic behaviour” as the “stuff of legends”.

The paper’s editorial said: “The problem with Mr Zuma now is that his disconcerting behaviour has become a huge liability, not only to South Africa but also to the rest of the continent.”

The newspaper accused Mr Zuma of being “a dishonest broker” in the Zimbabwe dispute between the various political parties. It said he also betrayed Africa by voting for a no-fly zone over Libya at the UN Security Council.

“Mr Zuma’s duplicity is astounding. With such leaders, Africa is in mortal danger,” the paper said. “The same President Zuma who voted for the bombardment of Libya is now speaking out against the use of military force by the United States, Britain, France and their allies. His ludicrous stance has left political scientists scratching their heads in puzzlement. Does South Africa have a foreign policy at all or has the ANC entered the era of Mickey Mouse posturing?”

Eldred Masungure, a political analyst from the University of Zimbabwe, said there had been a definite hardening in SADC’s stance towards Mr Mugabe. “There is a significant change in tone – it is quite hard by SADC standards”.

He thought the SADC statement would help reduce violence in the short term. “Zanu-PF will take note and may not want to antagonise SADC at a point when the stakes are not that high he said. But when the country got closer to elections, either at the end of 2011 or early next year “we could get the usual game – violence and intimidation.”

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