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Zimbabwe Ruling Party, Opposition, Set To Open Preliminary Talks


Preliminary discussions between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change aimed at paving the way to substantive discussions about power sharing are expected to begin later this week in Pretoria amid intense international pressure, government and opposition sources said Wednesday.

A senior government official told VOA that two days of talks involving the two groupings of the MDC and the ruling party will begin Thursday and conclude on Friday.

The same official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ZANU-PF politiburo met on Wednesday and gave Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Labor Minister Nicholas Goche a fresh mandate to negotiate on behalf of the party. The two negotiated for ZANU-PF in the South African mediated crisis talks that dead-ended in January.

Chinamasa told the state-controlled Herald newspaper that the talks would begin this week. The ZANU-PF politburo instructed Chinamasa and Goche to seek a compromise as quickly as possible due to the intense world pressure on Harare since Mr. Mugabe claimed victory in the June 27 run-off election though he was the only active candidate following the withdrawal of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and was inaugurated just two days later.

Sources in Pretoria confirmed the crisis talks will resume on Thursday and that the parties will also look at a draft proposal from South African President Thabo Mbeki, mediator in the crisis on behalf of the Southern African Development Community since March 2007.

The draft proposes a government of national unity that would leave Mr. Mugabe as president while installing Tsvangirai as prime minister. The secretaries general of the two MDC formations – Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube – will represent the opposition.

In a related development, Biti's passport was returned to him on Wednesday by the high court, to which he surrendered the document after he was charged with treason last month following his return to Zimbabwe from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai’s MDC formation told reporter Blessing Zulu that the this week's consultations will pave the way for substantive talks.

Meanwhile, Harare has dispatched ministers to various countries to lobby members of the United Nations Security Council in the aim of blocking a United States-sponsored resolution to increase sanctions on President Mugabe and members of his inner circle.

Countries being lobbied include big powers Russia and China, as well as Panama, Indonesia, Burkina Faso, South Africa and Libya.

France’s U.N. ambassador said on Tuesday that the resolution’s sponsors had lined up the nine votes needed to push the resolution to a vote of the Council’s permanent members.

Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, that Harare is ready to form a national unity government.

Some skeptical observers say such assertions are being made in hopes they will prevent the U.N. Security Council from reaching a consensus on Zimbabwe sanctions.

The proposed U.N. sanctions include an international arms embargo and a freeze on the personal assets of Mugabe and 13 other officials the U.S. says were behind political violence that surged in the wake of March 29 general elections and continues to the present day.

U.N. spokesman Yves Sokorobi told VOA that the resolution will come to a vote this week, but no firm date has been set for that exercise.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro of Tanzania briefed the Security Council Tuesday on the recent African Union summit in Egypt. She said the UN supports the mediation efforts by African regional groups.

Zimbabwe's U.N. ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, told reporter Zulu that the sanctions are not justified as Zimbabwe poses no threat to international security.

But independent political analyst Chris Maroleng in Pretoria told reporter Zulu that the sanctions resolution is essential to prod Mr Mugabe to change course.

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

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