/ 11 October 2008

UN chief concerned about Zimbabwe impasse

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday expressed concern about the impasse in a Zimbabwe power-sharing accord and urged the two sides to step up efforts to reach a ”workable” deal as soon as possible.

”The secretary general is concerned about this impasse,” UN deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe told a press briefing. ”He urges the parties to focus hard on reaching a workable agreement as soon as possible.”

She added: ”It is critically important to get a government in place and to take steps to restore the economy and get Zimbabwe on a path to recovery and a better life for its people.”

She stressed the world body is doing its utmost to work with the new Harare government to help solve the problems facing the bitterly divided Southern African country.

Okabe also expressed alarm over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, with more than five million Zimbabweans facing severe food shortages.

Warning that it will run out of stocks in January, the UN World Food Programme appealed for $140-million to provide vital relief rations over the next six months.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe agreed on Friday to allow outside mediation in a bid to break a four-week deadlock over Cabinet posts in a new unity government with his opposition led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

After earlier insisting there was no need for South Africa’s former leader Thabo Mbeki to resume his troubled mediation mission in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s camp said it now accepted a third party was needed.

Following talks between the opposition and Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, the latter’s chief negotiator, Patrick
Chinamasa, confirmed Mbeki would now be asked for his help.

Since a power-sharing accord was signed on September 15 in the capital, Harare, Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change have met several times to agree on a share of ministries.

The MDC has argued it should take the lion’s share of power as it won most votes in March’s first round of elections. MDC leader Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round after mounting violence against his supporters.

However, the opposition party has accused Zanu-PF of trying to cling on to all the major Cabinet portfolios, including defence, home affairs and finance.

Mbeki, who was toppled as South African president last month, has been widely accused in the past of being too soft on Mugabe, who has led the former British colony since independence in 1980.

UN troubleshooter Haile Menkerios is serving as the UN high-level representative on a so-called ”reference group” — also including the African Union and a security panel of the Southern African Development Community — set up to assist the South African mediators and provide regular progress updates. — Sapa-AFP