July 16, 2006

Mkapa mediator on political crisis

Benjamin Mkapa - the former Tanzanian president and a close ally of President Mugabe, has been confirmed as mediator in Zimbabwe’s political crisis to resolve the diplomatic standoff between London and Harare. Civic and opposition groups have reacted angrily to Annan’s withdrawal from the mediation initiative, with the main Movement for Democratic Change questioning the ability and capacity of President Mugabe in appointing a mediator in a situation where he is a major actor. Kofi Annan, UN-Chief Secretary, has accepted Harare’s proposal to pave way for Mkapa as mediator. "Mkapa is clever enough to know that the Zimbabwean crisis would be untenable for as long as there is no breakthrough with Britain," said one diplomat. "The crux of the matter is that nothing short of democratic reforms to address issues of legitimacy would be entertained. In this regard a timetable to Mugabe’s retirement would do the trick," added the diplomat.

In the meantime, a British Foreign Office official has said that mediation between Britain and Zimbabwe was not required, as Harare’s problems were of its own making and did not arise from a bilateral dispute. The comments suggested that the diplomatic initiative launched by President Robert Mugabe this weekend at an African Union summit, with Tanzanian ex-president Benjamin Mkapa as mediator. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the British official said the cancellation of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's visit to Zimbabwe was regrettable, as Annan could have highlighted international community concerns about the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans, as well as the need for the government of Zimbabwe to undertake economic and political reforms. The official said Britain has always been willing to respond positively to any real commitment to sustainable reform in Zimbabwe, but that the U.K. has seen no evidence of such intentions coming from Mr. Mugabe and his government. He added that any mediation or rapprochement needed to take place first between the Mugabe government and the people it proposed to represent, because the government was responsible for the country’s problems. However, he said Britain remained willing to talk to anyone interested finding a solution to the country’s internal crisis. (Voa News, South Africa)

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