/ 11 July 2008

Second day of Zim talks under way in Pretoria

Zimbabwe’s ruling party and opposition held a second day of talks in South Africa on Friday as the United Nations delayed a vote on fresh sanctions against Robert Mugabe’s regime after his one-man election.

The talks, aimed at laying the groundwork for fully fledged negotiations to resolve Zimbabwe’s political crisis, are the first since Mugabe won a new term as president in a June 27 poll widely denounced as a sham.

In New York, the UN Security Council delayed the crucial vote to slap fresh sanctions on Mugabe and 13 of his cronies as opponents of the measures expressed support for the South African-mediated talks.

Held at an undisclosed location in Pretoria, the talks are being kept under wraps as the parties lay down conditions for negotiations.

Nqobizitha Mlilo, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s chief spokesperson in South Africa, said the two sides would continue to discuss conditions needed to allow talks to go ahead. ”We are meeting them [the ruling Zanu-PF] face to face. We are not afraid of them,” Mlilo said.

The MDC has insisted substantive negotiations can only take place if violence is halted and more than 1 500 ”political prisoners” are released.

It has also called for an expanded mediation team, including an African Union permanent envoy, and the swearing-in of lawmakers as the opposition now controls Parliament.

”Those are the issues, that’s the sole agenda. There is no substantive agenda,” Mlilo said.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is the region’s long-time mediator between the opposition and Mugabe’s ruling party.

South African government officials — though not Mbeki himself — were involved in Thursday’s discussions at an undisclosed location in Pretoria, said presidential spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga.

”They [talks] are going on, yes, they are taking place,” said Ratshitanga, confirming the second day of talks had begun on Friday.

Zanu-PF was represented by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Labour Minister Nicholas Goche, and the MDC by secretary general Tendai Biti and deputy treasurer general Elton Mangoma.

The ruling party has refused to comment on the talks.

Mugabe was re-elected in last month’s run-off after MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out, citing a wave of attacks against his supporters that killed dozens and injured thousands.

Tsvangirai confirmed in a statement that the MDC would set pre-conditions for further talks at the Pretoria meeting.

Vote cancelled
The UN Security Council vote on the United States-drafted sanctions resolution scheduled for Thursday was cancelled as opponents of the measures instead wanted to extend support to the South African-mediated talks.

”We have been seeing efforts under way by the African Union and the SADC [Southern African Development Community] and we think those efforts should be supported,” said Vietnam’s UN ambassador, Le Luong Minh, who chairs the council this month.

The fresh sanctions, which would include an assets freeze and a travel ban on Mugabe and 13 of his allies, as well as an arms embargo, have been pushed forward despite opposition from South Africa, which says dialogue is the answer to the deadlock in Zimbabwe.

Russia, China, Libya and Indonesia have also raised objections, with Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin warning the sponsors that rushing a vote could have ”unpredictable” consequences.

On Thursday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed hope that Zimbabwe’s rival parties ”would be able to come out with some mutually acceptable political solution whereby we can bring and see peace and stability and the humanitarian situation into normalcy”. — Sapa-AFP