Mbeki to work more closely with UN, AU on Zimbabwe

South African President Thabo Mbeki, under pressure to expand his troubled mediation efforts, agreed on Friday to work more closely with the African Union and United Nations to bring an end to the Zimbabwe crisis.

After Mbeki held talks with African Union commission chairman Jean Ping and the United Nations’ top envoy to Harare, officials announced a new body would be established to provide regular progress updates and allow for greater input.

But although Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai greeted the announcement as evidence that the Mbeki-led mediation was being expanded, the South African government stressed that it remained in charge.

Meanwhile, foreign ministers of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc heard a warning that the crisis sparked by disputed elections that ended in veteran President Robert Mugabe’s re-election had the potential to destabilise the whole region.

Although Mbeki made no comment after the talks, his right-hand man in the mediation process—a task first handed to him by his peers in SADC a year ago—said a new “reference group” was being set up to include the AU and UN.

“They will get briefings on a regular basis from the facilitator,” said Sydney Mufamadi, a member of Mbeki’s Cabinet.

“If a member of the reference group ... wants to make a strategic input, they are welcome,” he told reporters.

Haile Menkerios, the UN’s special representative to Zimbabwe, endorsed Mbeki continuing in his role as mediator even though he has made little headway so far in efforts to bring about some kind of power-sharing arrangement.

“We fully support the effort of SADC, [and] the mediator,” he said.

“This [the new reference group] is a way, a mechanism, through which that support could be expressed.”

Meanwhile, AU Commission chairperson Jean Ping also gave his support to Mbeki, saying he was “satisfied by the briefing, by the decision” on the new reference group.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party and Mugabe’s Zanu-PF began preliminary talks last week aimed at establishing a framework for substantive negotiations under South African mediation.

But Tsvangirai, who beat Mugabe into second place in the first round of voting in March and does not recognise his old rival’s re-election, has so far refused to put his name to a framework deal.

Although there had been hopes of an agreement being signed on Wednesday, Mufamadi acknowledged that the talks between the two sides were still stuck.

“Our understanding is that the parties are still considering the draft of understanding that was produced by the negotiator,” he said.

Tsvangirai, who has accused Mbeki of being too biased towards Mugabe and previously called for him to be axed as the chief mediator, meanwhile said he welcomed the involvement of the AU and UN.

“We welcome the appointment of these eminent persons to work with President Mbeki and I look forward to us all using our collective energies to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis and alleviate the suffering of the people in the shortest time possible,” he said.

Talks between Ping and Mbeki were the pair’s first since Mugabe’s re-election in a one-man poll on June 27.

The ballot was widely denounced as a sham in the West after Tsvangirai boycotted the run-off following a wave of deadly attacks on his supporters.

The crisis also topped the agenda at a two-day meeting of SADC foreign ministers in Durban, which kicked off with an ominous warning from Angola, a traditional ally of Mugabe.

“This could be an obstacle to regional peace and has created an unprecedented situation in the history of our organisation,” Angolan Foreign Minister Joao Miranda said.

“It’s a very worrying situation involving basic democratic principles… There are many interpretations on the same phenomenon and the unity and cohesion of SADC could be weakened by it.”—AFP


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