July 24, 2003

ZIMBABWE: Mugabe, Tsvangirai open way for talks

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rival Morgan Tsvangirai have taken a huge stride towards resuming talks to resolve their country' s political and economic crisis.

In an unprecedented gesture of reconciliation, the two leaders extended each other the olive branch, calling for co-operation and dialogue to end the crisis. The apparent thawing in relations between the two leaders and their parties would vindicate President Thabo Mbeki's insistence, made recently to US President George Bush, that behind the scenes talks were taking place.

The prospect of meaningful talks starting soon appears to have been bolstered by the MDC's announcement yesterday that it was upgrading its negotiation team ahead of resuming talks with the ruling Zanu (PF). Three new members are to be added to the team, which will be led by MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube. Tsvangirai said in Harare yesterday the MDC had decided to invest all its energies in the search for a permanent solution to the Zimbabwean crisis. "We have expanded our negotiating team, and agreed on the route to guide the team when dialogue resumes. We are ready to support and participate in all efforts designed to chart a peaceful course towards the resolution of the crisis in governance in Zimbabwe." Ncube led the previous round of talks which were called off by Zanu (PF) last year. The names of the new MDC delegates have not yet been announced.

Mugabe told a luncheon, hosted by the local government ministry to mark the opening of parliament on Tuesday, July 22, he was happy that opposition MPs, including MDC leader Tsvangirai, who is not a legislator, were present during his address to parliament. MDC MPs have in the past boycotted Mugabe's parliamentary speeches, claiming that he stole last year's March election. In a conciliatory tone, Mugabe said he hoped the two parties would be able to work together despite their differences. "I am glad that today there was that realisation that parliament must hitherto be an honourable institution to which we belong," Mugabe said.

Tsvangirai said his party would do everything it could to ensure negotiations resumed. "Our national executive tasked the leadership to do all it can to clear the air for a peaceful political engagement. We decided to invest all our energies in search for a permanent and lasting solution to the Zimbabwean crisis." The Zimbabwean official opposition is still pressing ahead with its court petition to have the results of the 2002 presidential election overturned. The MDC's petition will be heard in the high court on November 3. However, David Coltart, MDC secretary for legal affairs, said yesterday that the party might be prepared to suspend the court petition should talks resume. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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