Britain plots Zimbabwe invasion – Charamba

HARARE, (Reuters) – Zimbabwe's government has accused former colonial ruler Britain of using a cholera epidemic to rally Western support for an invasion of the collapsing southern African nation, a state-run newspaper said on Sunday.

President Robert Mugabe has in the past week come under pressure from the international community, especially Western nations who accuse him of ruining the once relatively prosperous country and exposing its people to famine and disease.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Saturday branded Mugabe’s government a "blood-stained regime" and said it bore responsibility for a cholera epidemic that has killed at least 575 Zimbabweans and made ill almost 13,000.

Brown called on the world to tell Mugabe "enough is enough". His plea came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said that the veteran Zimbabwean ruler’s departure from office was long overdue.

"I don’t know what this mad Prime Minister (Brown) is talking about. He is asking for an invasion of Zimbabwe … but he will come unstuck," Mugabe spokesman George Charamba told the state-controlled Sunday Mail.

Charamba added that the growing Western criticism signalled a plot to oust Mugabe’s government militarily.

The government in Harare frequently blames Britain and other Western nations for the country’s economic meltdown, saying that targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle have sabotaged the economy.

Zimbabwe is on the verge of collapse. Food stocks are running out, unemployment is above 80 percent and prices double every 24 hours. The health system is in tatters, leaving many of those infected with cholera no option for treatment.

The epidemic has forced Zimbabwe to declare a national emergency and seek foreign assistance. Britain, which has a particularly bad relationship with Mugabe’s government, is among the European nations that have promised to provide aid.

South Africa, Zimbabwe’s richest neighbour, also has pledged assistance. South African officials are due to visit Zimbabwe on Monday to assess the humanitarian crisis.

At the same time the European Union is considering applying new sanctions against Zimbabwe next week unless progress is made in ending a political deadlock over how to implement a power-sharing deal between Mugabe and the opposition party.

Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed on Sept. 15 to form a unity government, but the effort has been mired by disagreement over control of ministries.

Negotiators from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the MDC are due to meet again with South African mediators later this month.

Charamba said Western sanctions, which Harare says are punishment for its seizure of thousands of white-owned farms, have made it more difficult for the government to respond to health crises such as the cholera outbreak.