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LONDON — The miserable Zimbabwe saga now seems to be moving to a moment of catharsis. Opposition leader Morgan Tsangvirai has sent a desperate appeal to the United Nations, almost like the last cry of a free country about to be obliterated, warning of imminent descent into civil strife that will threaten the very existence of Zimbabwe and pleading once more for stronger international action.

But what can be done? Resolutions and lectures fly round thick and fast, the European Union has expanded its targeted sanctions list, and the Commonwealth has suspended the country from its Ministerial Council (although not entirely from the Commonwealth organization itself).

But somehow the illegitimate Mugabe regime presses on unchecked, seizing farms, forcing thousands of farm workers into destitution, manipulating external food aid, threatening new violence against its political enemies and disregarding international strictures. In places it has even succeeded in coercing more people into supporting its political wing, the ZANU-PF.

Pressed to act, the democracies have shuffled and muttered about noninterference in sovereign states (apparently a principle that is applied selectively these days), and about the need to leave the whole problem to Zimbabwe’s immediate neighbors to resolve — which they are notably failing to do.

Meanwhile the EU travel ban on key officials, many of them known and brutal abusers of human rights, turns out to be full of loopholes. For example, Mugabe’s sinister police chief, Augustine Chihuri, has been allowed to visit France at will. Named top Zimbabwean thugs also visit Brussels without being arrested, as they should be. And although the list has been expanded to 79 people, many other bloodstained figures have so far escaped listing.

Attempts to freeze the funds of Mugabe and the cronies who are bankrolling him have produced dismal results. The British government admits that so far it has managed to freeze only about £500,000, a fraction of what must be sitting in various accounts under various names round the world.

A U.N. panel of experts, looking not directly at Zimbabwe but at dark deeds in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have now cast a new beam of light on the affairs of Mugabe and his associates as well. In a report on “Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the DRC,” which was sent to the U.N. secretary general on Oct. 8 then passed by him to the president of the Security Council on Oct. 15, the experts expose a world of corruption and siphoned-off funds tangled together with the activities of the Zimbabwean Defense Force.

Why the Zimbabwean Army should be so involved in neighboring Congo when its own country is spiraling downward has all along been a bit of a puzzle. But the U.N. report makes things a lot clearer. It is all part of a gigantic washing operation to turn “conflict” diamonds into clean ones and cream off revenues illegally. The report names a string of individuals, some Congolese, some Zimbabwean, who are in the thick of the criminal racket and goes on to list 29 companies that it believes should have financial restrictions imposed on them. So it seems this is how the Zimbabwe regime blithely carries on while ordinary Zimbabweans starve.

If the EU and its member states are going to get serious about the injustices, abuses and atrocities that are reported daily in Zimbabwe, then it is clear that many of these companies, their activities and their agents, demand the most rigorous investigation; their assets, where in reach, should be frozen.

Even if one accepts the line that intervention from the outside into Zimbabwean affairs is impossible — and the opposition in Zimbabwe (the Movement for Democratic Change) certainly does not accept that — there are still a whole string of actions that individual members of the international community could take immediately as they try to bring along more hesitant allies. They include:

* Expanding sharply the list of those banned from traveling in Europe (and elsewhere round the world) to include spouses and dependents, and ensuring that the European list is matched around the world, for instance by the United States — which has already taken a commendably tough stance on its own — and by Japan.

* Eliminating the numerous loopholes in travel-ban restrictions.

* Investigating and, where practicable, freezing the assets of all companies and individuals revealed as bankers to the Mugabe regime.

* Toughening the trade embargo against Zimbabwe (it appears that Mugabe and his friends are kept well supplied with new Mercedes automobiles).

* Drawing up and giving maximum publicity to a dossier of all known or suspected torturers, butchers, rights abusers and land-grabbers around Mugabe, thus identifying some of those who will stand trial for crimes against humanity when their time comes.

This would be a modest start, but much more pressure will be needed. Initial pressure ought to come, but probably will not, from the Southern Africa Development Community heads of state, especially President Thabo Mbeki in South Africa, since that is the region being strangled by the Zimbabwean chaos, as all foreign investment dries up. Thereafter the whole international community will have to put its shoulder to the task.

The issue has nothing to do with colonialism, as Mugabe keeps insisting, and nothing to do with racism (except that he and his thugs clearly hate all white people). It has everything to do with the standards of good governance that the new global ethic is demanding everywhere nowadays — everywhere, it seems, except in Zimbabwe.

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