/ 14 July 2008

AU Commission chief, Mbeki to meet on Zimbabwe

African Union Commission chief Jean Ping will meet South African President Thabo Mbeki on Friday to discuss Zimbabwe’s political crisis, a presidential spokesperson said.

”President Mbeki invited Mr Ping to brief him on developments in negotiations in the SADC-facilitated talks on Zimbabwe,” Mukoni Ratshitanga said on Monday, referring to the 14-nation Southern African Development Community. ”The meeting will take place on Friday.”

He declined to disclose details of the meeting, which will be held in Pretoria. Mbeki is the SADC-appointed mediator for Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe was re-elected in a widely condemned one-man election on June 27.

An AU source had earlier said Ping was to travel to Pretoria on Monday to meet Mbeki following discussions between Zimbabwe’s rival parties last week in South Africa.

The source later said the meeting had been delayed.

”This meeting is aimed at accelerating the implementation of a resolution [of an AU summit in Egypt] on power sharing in Zimbabwe,” the source said.

A recent AU summit ended with a call for dialogue between political parties in Zimbabwe and a national unity government.

Last week’s discussions between Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change were aimed at hammering out a framework to allow fully fledged talks on the crisis and were part of Mbeki’s mediation attempts.

Mbeki has faced heavy criticism over his quiet diplomacy approach, and Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has previously called for him to be stripped of his role as mediator.

The crisis in Zimbabwe intensified when Mugabe (84) defied international criticism and pushed ahead with the one-man run-off election that handed him a sixth term as president.

Tsvangirai pulled out of the vote five days ahead of the poll, citing rising violence against his supporters that had left dozens dead and thousands injured.

The opposition leader finished ahead of Mugabe in the March 29 first round of the election, but with an official vote total just short of an outright majority. — Sapa-AFP