July 30, 2008

Mbeki on mission to clear talks hurdles

Barring last-minute changes, President Thabo Mbeki will visit Zimbabwe today for crucial meetings with that country's main political parties and their leaders involved in power-sharing talks, in a bid to clear hurdles to a final agreement. Mbeki's surprise trip to Harare could make or break the negotiations, which are at a delicate stage. Despite reports the talks stalled on Monday, informed sources said "tremendous progress" had been made, although there were a "few critical issues to sort out". They said all issues on the agenda had been agreed upon, except the sticking point of positions and powers. "The final agreement is almost there, but there are a few issues on posts and political jurisdiction that need to be finalised," a source said. "Mbeki has tabled a draft proposal and this is what they are trying to clear before a final agreement is written, adopted and signed." Mbeki said in a joint conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday in Pretoria that the talks had been adjourned and had not failed. Mubarak, who has been in power about as long as President Robert Mugabe, is in SA on an official visit.
Mbeki is expected to meet Mugabe and Zanu PF negotiators Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche. He is also due to meet opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) faction leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara. Tsvangirai's emissaries, Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma, and Mutambara's envoys, Welshman Ncube and Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga, will also attend the meetings. Mbeki's mediators, Sydney Mufamadi, Frank Chikane and Mojanku Gumbi will also be there. The Zanu PF negotiators flew back to Harare on Monday. The MDC participants including Tsvangirai, who was in SA, were due to return home last night. Mbeki would follow today for the meetings ahead of an emergency gathering of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) organ on politics, defence and security in Angola on Friday. Presidential spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga was unable to confirm or deny Mbeki's trip to Harare. The SADC organ meeting has been called to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis in the light of the talks. Sources said today's meetings would focus on resolving outstanding issues - including Tsvangirai's position - which led to the adjournment of the talks on Monday. It is said that Tsvangirai is earmarked for the anticipated post of prime minister, while Mugabe would remain as executive president. Some of Tsvangirai's supporters are said to object to this proposal, as they feel he would be ineffective unless he has executive authority. Tsvangirai is also said to have been offered - and to have rejected - the post of third vice-president.
However, last week Mugabe and Tsvangirai had apparently agreed to a power-sharing arrangement and positions after private meetings at the Rainbow Towers hotel in Harare. A government of national unity deal was expected soon after the breakthrough meetings. Informed sources said the constitution would soon be amended to facilitate the envisaged agreement. They said a 19th constitutional amendment was to be a transitional mechanism between the present constitution and an expected new one. The amendment would be largely designed to accommodate Tsvangirai and other MDC officials in the new government. The number of appointed senators would be increased from five to 11 to make space for MDC appointees, including Tsvangirai and Mutambara. In terms of the constitution, no one can be appointed to the cabinet without being elected to parliament. Currently, Mugabe can appoint only five senators, not enough to accommodate losing Zanu PF candidates and unelected MDC officials.
The acting spokesman for Tsvangirai's MDC faction, Tapiwa Mashakada, said last night negotiators were on their way back home for "consultations with their principals". "The talks have adjourned. Negotiators are coming back to consult their principals and give a comprehensive briefing to the parties. After that the talks will resume," he said. Mbeki has also said the talks had not broken down, but had adjourned until the weekend. This came after Tsvangirai's camp claimed the talks had stalled. A senior member of Mutambara's faction closely following the negotiations said: "The talks have not collapsed, as claimed. In fact, tremendous progress has been made and we expect a final deal very soon." Mutambara said at the weekend the "process we have started will result in a political settlement to this impasse". Zimbabwe's Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said in the state media yesterday talks were progressing well despite threats posed by the US and European Union targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies. The current round of talks started on July 10 in Pretoria and are expected to end on Monday. A memorandum of understanding to pave the way for substantive talks was signed last week in Harare. (ZWNews)

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