Lusaka - Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has dispatched a special envoy to Harare to repair relations with Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe ahead of a regional summit later this month, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.

Vice-President Rupiah Banda's mission is designed to patch up differences between the two leaders ahead of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) summit here, where the Zimbabwe crisis is expected to top the agenda.

"President Mwanawasa wants to make up with Mugabe before the summit," a diplomatic source said.

Mwanawasa, who is the incoming chairperson of SADC, has broken ranks with fellow southern African leaders by publicly criticising Mugabe, likening the situation in Zimbabwe earlier this year to that of the sinking Titanic.

Diplomats here believe that once Mwanawasa takes over at the helm of SADC this month, he will use his position to push for a more hardline stance against Harare as opposed to the policy of quiet diplomacy favoured by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

"Mwanawasa wants to assure Mugabe that he will not use his position to attack Zimbabwe," another source said.

Banda is a seasoned diplomat who served as Zambia's foreign minister under the government of founding president Kenneth Kaunda, who was a strong ally of Mugabe.