4 April 2002

Mediators battle to touch sides

Nigerian and South African mediators are trying to hammer out a proposal to convince the opposition and President Robert Mugabe's ruling party to meet to end a stalemate over last month's disputed presidential election. Officials from both parties said they were waiting to hear the mediators' proposals before deciding whether to take part. Political violence in Zimbabwe has continued in the wake of the controversial March 9-11 presidential election that the government said Mugabe won. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change and several observer teams said the vote was marred by intimidation and vote-rigging. Since the poll, international pressure has mounted for Mugabe and the MDC to form a coalition government.

Kgalema Motlanthe, secretary-general of South Africa's ruling African National Congress, and senior Nigerian diplomat Adebayo Adedeji were meeting with aides on Thursday, April 4, at a Harare hotel to try to establish the groundwork for possible talks. Zimbabwe information minister Jonathan Moyo, who is also a ruling Zanu PF party spokesman, said proposed talks would begin only after "appropriate consultations" were held with the mediators. Welshman Ncube, MDC secretary-general, said the opposition party was awaiting proposals from the mediators on a possible agenda. "We have simply agreed to listen to what is on offer," he said. The MDC has laid down conditions for holding talks, including demands for a rerun of the presidential election under United Nations or Commonwealth supervision, an end to political violence and measures to end economic chaos. They were among 10 "confidence-building measures that must be in place" if talks were to go ahead, Ncube said.

Opposition officials have said privately the party might support a "transitional arrangement" to run the country until a new election is held within six months or a year. That was expected to be the sticking point Mugabe would not accept. Ruling party leaders have made it clear that after any low-level preliminary talks, Mugabe would be unwilling meet with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai whom he has branded a puppet of the West and the nation's 60.000 whites.

South African former president Nelson Mandela said in a radio interview on Thursday that he had been approached, before Zimbabwe's election, by a ruling party Cabinet minister in Zimbabwe who wanted him to push Mugabe to resign. Mandela, who did not name the minister, said he considered the request inappropriate and refused. Zimbabwe's independent Financial Gazette newspaper reported on Thursday that ruling-party insiders proposed a compromise to prepare the way for Mugabe's early retirement. Mugabe's new six-year term could be curtailed to end after three years in 2005 when parliament's term expires and fresh joint elections could be held with an independent election commission replacing the state-appointed commission, said the paper. Quoting unidentified insiders, the paper said the government would offer to drop treason charges against Tsvangirai and Ncube as a gesture of good faith. The opposition leaders have denied the charges that they were involved in an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe.

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