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Mugabe opponents, govt agree talks framework

Zimbabwe’s opposition and the ruling party of President Robert Mugabe will sign a deal on Monday laying down a framework for formal talks to end the country’s deep crisis, a senior government official said.

South Africa said that President Thabo Mbeki, the official regional mediator in Zimbabwe, would travel to Harare for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the ruling Zanu-PF and two factions of the opposition MDC.

It said in a statement the deal would be signed at 3pm 1pm GMT. There was no immediate confirmation from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Both sides have been under heavy world and African pressure to enter negotiations after Mugabe’s re-election on June 27 in a widely condemned presidential poll boycotted by the opposition.

Zimbabwe’s economic collapse under Mugabe’s rule has flooded neighbouring countries with millions of refugees and saddled the once prosperous country with inflation of at least two-million percent.

The senior Zimbabwean official also said the signing would be at 3pm at a Sheraton hotel in Harare and would be supervised by Mbeki. Asked if the MDC would sign, he said: ”As far as I know, yes. If there any hitches, we don’t know about those at the moment.”

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC, has previously refused to sign even a framework deal unless government militias stopped violence he says has killed 120 of his supporters and Mugabe recognised his victory in the first round of the presidential poll on March 29. He pulled out of the run-off because of the violence.

Mugabe blames the opposition for the bloodshed between the two rounds of the election.

The atmosphere appeared to change late last week when Mbeki agreed to expand the mediation process to include the African Union, United Nations and other officials from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as a ”reference group”.

The change came after Jean Ping, the AU’s top permanent official and UN envoy to Zimbabwe Haile Menkerios held talks with Mbeki last Friday.

Expansion of the mediation beyond Mbeki has been a key demand of Tsvangirai who has strongly criticised the South African president, accusing him of favouring Mugabe.

”The Memorandum represents a positive step forward in the ongoing dialogue among the parties as facilitated by President Mbeki acting on behalf of SADC,” the South African statement said.

First step
But the framework deal, although a breakthrough, was only a first step in what are expected to be very tough negotiations.

Mugabe insists that the opposition accepts that he is the duly elected president, despite Tsvangirai’s demand that the first round result should stand.

”Tsvangirai has so far done well to press for and win a role for both the AU and the UN in the mediation process, but he has to remain alert all the way because he is dealing with a foxy man — Mugabe,” said Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.

”The actual negotiations are going to be a lot tougher and the MDC’s aim of easing Mugabe out of power or sharing executive power (with Zanu-PF) in a transitional government ahead of another election is going to be more difficult to get,” he said. – Reuters

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