HARARE -- A showdown is looming between Zimbabwe and the European Union (EU) over the African nation's refusal to allow the European Union to monitor next year's presidential elections.

Zimbabwe's foreign affairs minister, Stan Mudenge, has described as "thoughtless and futile" a demand by the European Union to be allowed to send its election monitors for the elections.

"That is how exactly we feel when people... come to us, even before we ourselves know the date of our elections to urge, insist and demand that they should be allowed to come by such and such a date and start assessing and observing," he said.

"It breeds suspicions and tempts others to ascribe sinister motives," said Mudenge, warning that Zimbabwe is a sovereign and independent state that can never take orders from any country.

Zimbabwean political analysts, however, beg to differ with Mudenge. "Yes, Zimbabwe is a sovereign state, but does it want free and fair elections. No. If they are genuine about holding free and fair elections, they should allow monitors from all over the world. They have something to hide it's clear," says Moses Tekere, a University of Zimbabwe lecturer.

"Although it's not possible to hold free and fair elections now, the government runs the risk of no one recognizing it even if it were to win freely and fairly," notes Tekere.

John Makumbe, a political analyst, agreed. "It's a frivolous excuse," he says. "If the Zimbabwean government has nothing to hide, they should allow international observers to come in. Their refusal to let in the international community is already evident of their intention to steal the election."

The European Union claims that President Robert Mugabe's government is failing to uphold the rule of law, threatening to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe over worsening human rights conditions in the country.

Zimbabwe's presidential elections, which is expected to be the most fiercely contested since independence in 1980, will take place early next year.

For the first time, political analysts give incumbent president Mugabe little chance of winning the vote. In last year's parliamentary elections, analysts claim the ruling party only won through violence and the beating up of opposition supporters.

At least 32 opposition supporters were killed in the run-up to last year's elections. President Mugabe is facing his strongest challenge ever from the opposition's Morgan Tsvangirai.

"There is a lot more than meets the eye. They are very scared. They (government) don't want the glare of the international community and it's obvious that it's going to be a violent election," says Makumbe.

Last year Zimbabwe signed the Cotonou Agreement in which it agreed to the key essential elements of rule of law, good governance and the observance of democracy.

A new report released recently by Amnesty International blamed the Zimbabwean government "for sponsoring the killings of dozens of opposition supporters" in the country.

In the report, the London-based Human Rights group warned that state-sponsored killings were on the rise. The group also said that the murders would continue to increase in the run-up to next year's presidential elections.

According to the rights group, since January, more than 50 people have been killed and the figure is rising. Amnesty International claimed that supporters of the ruling party beat up political opponents sometimes with the active support of the police.

These claims have, however, been denied by police spokesperson, Wayne Bvudzijena. The police, he said, had "not stooped so low as to kill people". He challenged Amnesty International to provide evidence to back up their allegations.

Amnesty International predicts that violence will worsen and appeals for international election observers to be sent to Zimbabwe as soon as possible ahead of presidential elections next year.

"Pressure should continue to be exerted on the Zimbabwe government to allow independent election to stop them from stealing the election," says Makumbe.