/ 16 August 2008

Zim on agenda as heads of state gather

Zimbabwe’s main political rivals were in South Africa on Saturday for a regional summit with negotiators expected to aim for a resolution to the country’s political crisis.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s attendance at the gathering of heads of state was controversial, with Botswana’s president snubbing the gathering after his government said it did not recognise the 84-year-old leader’s re-election.

Regional trade unions also planned protests and a group called the Zimbabwean Exile Forum (ZEF) said it was launching an urgent legal action at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal in Windhoek to block Mugabe’s invitation.

There was controversy even before the summit began, with main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s trip to South Africa delayed on Thursday after authorities at Harare airport temporarily seized his passport. He flew into South Africa on Friday, after his passport was returned.

The crisis that intensified following Mugabe’s re-election in a June run-off poll widely condemned as a sham was high on the summit’s agenda, and there were indications power-sharing talks between the rivals would resume.

The chief negotiator for Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, said ”talks are going to resume on the sidelines of the SADC summit”.

Tsvangirai said ahead of the summit that he was ”hopeful” talks would resume, but a spokesperson for his party provided few details. ”Any dialogue that happens will happen within the context of the summit,” said Nqobizitha Mlilo.

Power-sharing talks were stalled when three days of negotiations adjourned on Tuesday after Tsvangirai said he needed more time to consider a deal agreed by Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara, who heads a smaller opposition faction.

Tsvangirai believes he has the right to the lion’s share of power since he finished ahead of Mugabe in the March first round of the presidential election.

Zanu-PF has insisted Mugabe must be recognised as president in any deal, as he won the June vote in which he was the only candidate after Tsvangirai boycotted it.

The power-sharing talks have been mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is to update his peers on the state of the negotiations at the summit.

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said on Friday talks between Zimbabwe’s rivals would push ahead ”until we find a solution”, adding: ”Of course there isn’t power-sharing right now, but the talks are still going on. Until we find a solution they will continue to go on because SADC doesn’t have the luxury of walking away from Zimbabwe.”

Tsvangirai boycotted the June presidential run-off after saying rising violence against his supporters had left dozens dead and thousands injured.

Mugabe defied international and regional calls to postpone the vote and pushed ahead with it anyway, handing himself a new term as president.

A SADC observer team gave the March first round of voting in Zimbabwe a largely clean bill of health, but the bloc’s mission said the June run-off ”did not represent the will of the people”. — Sapa-AFP