Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa urged southern Africa to take a new approach to Zimbabwe, which he likened to a "sinking Titanic" as millions flee economic and political turmoil.
In one of the strongest African comments on Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis, Mwanawasa said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had failed to achieve much in negotiations with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
"Quiet diplomacy has failed to help solve the political chaos and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe," Mwanawasa said late on Monday in neighboring Namibia.
"As I speak right now, one SADC country has sunk into such economic difficulties that it may be likened to a sinking Titanic whose passengers are jumping out in a bid to save their lives."
Zambian government newspapers said Mwanawasa had suggested SADC "would soon take a stand" on Zimbabwe.
Mwanawasa has stood virtually alone among southern African leaders in his willingness to criticize Mugabe, regarded by many as a liberation hero but condemned in the West for a brutal crackdown on opposition supporters and an economic crisis.
"Zambia has so far been an advocate of quiet diplomacy and continues to believe in it. But the twist of events in the troubled country necessitates the adoption of a new approach," Mwanawasa said.
Britain and the United States have called for more sanctions against Mugabe's government, which is battling its worst economic crisis in decades with inflation at more than 1,700 per cent, unemployment at 80 per cent and regular shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange.
Other regional leaders have remained largely silent on Zimbabwe, where Mugabe says he is being punished by the West for his policy of seizing white-owned farms to give to landless blacks.