/ 22 December 2009

Zim rivals announce breakthrough

Zimbabwe’s rival leaders met on Monday and announced they had reached two agreements, offering rare reason for hope after a year of impasse and disappointment.

The factions joined in a unity government said they were forming commissions to oversee human rights, the media and elections.

Members of the coalition formed in February had agreed on the commissions, but deadlocked over their composition.

While Monday’s agreement did not touch on the most contentious issues, it will be seen as an encouraging sign of progress by those who argue that Zimbabwe is best served by quiet if slow diplomacy.

A list of media commissioners released later included a former state broadcaster as chairperson and the editor of a banned independent newspaper as his deputy. Consultations were still under way on the appointment of heads of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.

Outstanding issues include disagreements over the appointment of provincial governors, the central bank chief and attorney general; charges from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party that supporters of President Robert Mugabe continue to abuse human rights; and charges from Mugabe’s party that Tsvangirai’s group has done too little to persuade the international community to lift sanctions against Mugabe and his top loyalists.

The treason trial of a top Tsvangirai aide also has bedeviled a coalition founded to rescue Zimbabwe from economic and political crisis.

But James Maridadi, spokesperson for Tsvangirai, was upbeat on Monday. He said the day’s agreements came after Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a party closely allied to Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, met for three hours on Monday, and that the three would meet again on Wednesday to resolve other issues.

Ephraim Masawi, a spokesperson for Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, said his party was responding to Zimbabwe’s neighbours, who have insisted ”that we have to work together with the MDC formations in the inclusive government. We hope that they will agree soon on the issue of the removal of sanctions as well”.

Tsvangirai had become so frustrated he temporarily withdrew from the unity government in October. He returned three weeks later after receiving assurances that South African President Jacob Zuma would intervene.

South African and other regional leaders had pushed for the coalition following a series of inconclusive elections marred by violence blamed on Mugabe’s loyalists. Tsvangirai has said that Zuma’s predecessor took too soft a line on Mugabe. Thabo Mbeki, now replaced by Zuma as regional point man on Zimbabwe, had argued that pushing Mugabe too hard could backfire.

In what was seen as a sign of stepped-up intervention, Zuma appointed two advisers and a special Zimbabwe envoy in November to work with politicians in Zimbabwe. But he has not publicly taken a harder line on Mugabe than did Mbeki. – Sapa-AP