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19 Jan 2009 14:55
A regional bid to resolve Zimbabwe’s unity government deadlock was under way on Monday as Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai entered crunch talks with Southern African mediators.
Dubbed “D-Day” for the country’s stalled unity government, the meeting is seen as make-or-break for Zimbabwe’s protracted political impasse and unchecked humanitarian crises.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, his predecessor Thabo Mbeki and Mozambican leader Armando Emilio Guebuza were mediating Monday’s talks in a further attempt by regional leaders to intervene in the stand-off.
The leaders are pushing for closure on the unity deal that stalled almost as soon as it was signed in September, but both Mugabe and Tsvangirai said at the weekend that they are not willing to compromise.
Minor opposition leader Arthur Mutambara told reporters on Monday that his faction, which holds a critical parliamentary swing vote, supports the demands of Tsvangirai’s MDC.
“We support those demands. We hope and trust Robert Mugabe and his party will be able to respond positively to the demands,” Mutambara said.
But while Mutambara called for “flexibility, compromise and pragmatism”, the state-run Herald has labelled the talks as “D-Day”, with Mugabe and Tsvangirai saying the meeting could be the last attempt to make the September deal work.
Mugabe threatened on Sunday to break off power-sharing talks if the opposition declined a deal, saying “either they accept or it’s a break”, in the government-mouthpiece Sunday Mail newspaper.
Tsvangirai’s MDC, meanwhile, insisted it would not join a unity government until all its concerns had been addressed—including allegations that its supporters had been abducted and tortured by state security agents.
Motlanthe, Mbeki and Guebuza were to meet the Zimbabwe leaders before negotiating teams for the three parties tackle the details of their differences.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai have yet to agree on how to share power within Cabinet despite repeated interventions by African leaders.
“The meeting of the leaders will be followed by a meeting of the negotiating teams, which is expected to discuss outstanding matters related to the implementation of the global agreement,” said South African government spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa.
Included in talks would be a constitutional amendment that would give effect to the power-sharing arrangement ahead of a parliamentary session on Tuesday, he added.
The agreement calls for 84-year-old Mugabe to remain president while Tsvangirai would take the new post of prime minister.
The impasse has only worsened the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans, with half the population dependent on food aid, astronomical levels of hyperinflation and a cholera epidemic sweeping unchecked across the country.
Cholera has killed more than 2 200 people since August, and the United Nations warned last week that prevention efforts have yet to rein in the disease, especially in rural areas.
The economy’s collapse has accelerated at an alarming rate, highlighted on Friday when the central bank announced a new Z$100-trillion note to cope with hyperinflation.—AFP
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