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No Accord Reached Yet In Zimbabwe Crisis Negotiations, Opposition Insists

Senior officials of Zimbabwe's political opposition on Sunday dismissed a report in the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper saying a draft crisis resolution agreement had been "adopted" by the ruling party and opposition in South African-brokered negotiations, saying major points of disagreement have yet to be settled.

They told VOA that the main sticking points in the talks being held under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community - the adoption of a new constitution before presidential and general elections are held next year, and postponement of those elections pending implement of reforms - remained unresolved.

The timing of these developments is all the more interesting in that President Robert Mugabe told a congress of his ruling ZANU-PF party that elections would be held "without fail" in March, appearing to throw up a major barrier to agreement.

Opposition officials expressed satisfaction that legislation will be introduced this week in parliament to significantly amend security and media laws which they and other observers have long condemned as draconian and repressive.

Nonetheless, spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai declared in no uncertain terms that an accord has yet to be achieved, rejecting the Sunday Mail report.

"It's not true, in fact that's a propaganda piece I think meant to try and hoodwink the nation, meant to try and put pressure on the MDC to accept a deal," Chamisa told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe on Sunday.

"We are still negotiating in Pretoria," Chamisa continued, "we have had issues where we are not agreeing" including a new constitution and major electoral reforms.

Legal Secretary David Coltart of the opposition grouping headed by Arthur Mutambara confirmed sticking points remain in the talks, adding that while the amendments to law are a positive step they merely undo restrictive measures imposed since 2000.

Nonetheless, the so-called SADC process seems to have made significant progress in recent days despite opposition complaints that it was close to deadlocked. Though the ruling party and opposition remain divided over the need for a new constitution before elections are held, and on when elections should be held, the introduction of amended security and media laws Tuesday could establish an important milestone.

The laws in question are the Public Order and Security Act, or POSA, which Harare has employed to bar opposition meetings and in general harass opponents, and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, or AIPPA, which Harare used in 2003 to shut down the Daily News, a leading source of critical reporting.

A senior Justice Ministry source said agreement on amending the laws was reached in the Pretoria talks two weeks ago. Late last week the government published three key bills which sources say are likely to be fast-tracked through parliament, amending the POSA and AIPPA laws along with legislation concerning broadcasting.

Sources said amendments to security laws will curtail police powers to block rallies by the opposition, among other reforms, while media law changes will narrow the powers of the Media and Information Commission, especially in the registration of journalists. Amendments to national broadcasting legislation are intended to expand opposition access to state television and radio which in previous elections have denied the opposition coverage or slanted coverage in favor of the ruling party.

Opposition politician Tongai Mathuthu, a member of the parliamentary legal committee for the Tsvangirai MDC formation, said the opposition welcomes the changes.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...