Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Zimbabwe's factions close to power-sharing agreement: aide
Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, centre, arrives at the opening ceremony of the 28th summit of the Southern African Development Community in Sandton, South Africa, on Saturday. (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)Zimbabwe's bitter factions are close to a power-sharing agreement in talks mediated by South Africa, an aide to South African President Thabo Mbeki said Saturday.
Mbeki, speaking Saturday at the opening of a regional summit, has spent much of the past week in Zimbabwe trying to push Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his rival Morgan Tsvangirai to strike a deal to resolve the country's protracted political crisis.
Chances that Mbeki would be able to present an agreement at the summit appeared slim after Tsvangirai walked out of talks in Harare on Tuesday, but an opposition official said the negotiations were back on track.
"We're talking, here," Tendai Biti, Tsvangirai's top negotiator, said after attending the opening session of the summit of the Southern African Development Community, or SADC.
Biti sat with Tsvangirai just behind cabinet ministers from the region during the opening session, while Mugabe sat at the front table with other heads of state.
'We're close. We're now relying on the collective wisdom of this leadership'
—South African cabinet minister Sydney MufamadiTsvangirai and Mugabe both claim the mandate to lead Zimbabwe, stalling power-sharing talks over the issue of who should have the main role in any unity government. But a South African cabinet minister closely involved in the talks was optimistic of a deal.
"We're close," Sydney Mufamadi said. "We're now relying on the collective wisdom of this leadership."
The regional summit was drawing the world's attention.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement from London that the meeting offers Africans an important opportunity to support the negotiations, saying: "The outside world continues to watch developments in Zimbabwe closely and with concern, not least given the deteriorating humanitarian situation. We will do all we can to help."
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul called on Zimbabwe's neighbours "finally to make fully clear to Robert Mugabe that a new government in Zimbabwe that must reflect the will of the Zimbabwean population is necessary."
The South Africans, appointed mediators by SADC, helped guide Mugabe and Tsvangirai to sign a memorandum of understanding July 21 establishing a framework for negotiations. Mbeki praised that agreement Saturday and said the SADC would continue working "to help put Zimbabwe on the right road to its recovery.
"We are towards them their brothers' and sisters' keepers," Mbeki said.
Mbeki has insisted on quiet diplomacy, and some have portrayed his refusal to publicly condemn Mugabe as appeasing a leader seen as increasingly autocratic.
Botswana's President Seretse Ian Khama refused to attend the summit to protest Mugabe's welcome as a head of state.
'Serious blot on the culture of democracy'
President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia also has been sharply critical of Mugabe but remained hospitalized in Paris because of a stroke.
But in a speech read aloud by his foreign minister, he called events in Zimbabwe a "serious blot on the culture of democracy in our subregion," singling out for criticism Zimbabwe's presidential runoff.
Tsvangirai came first in a field of four in the first round of presidential voting in March, but did not win by the margin necessary to avoid a runoff against second-place finisher Mugabe.
Tsvangirai withdrew from the June 27 runoff because of attacks on his supporters blamed on Mugabe's party militants and security forces.
Mugabe held the runoff and was declared the overwhelming winner, though the exercise was widely denounced.
In the streets of Johannesburg, several hundred protesters marched peacefully outside the summit to protest Mugabe's presence. Some held up red soccer penalty cards that read: "Mugabe must go."
Tensions over Zimbabwe come at a time when southern Africa is struggling to unify to fight poverty. SADC was to launch a free trade agreement Sunday scrapping tariffs on 85 per cent of goods traded among member nations.
Mbeki said soaring food and fuel prices and global economic decline make greater regional economic co-operation "more urgent," and expressed concern about threats to "unity and cohesion."
© The Canadian Press, 2008