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Deadlock Looms In Zimbabwe Talks As Regional Summit Nears

  • Thomas Chiripasi

Deadlock was looming late Tuesday after three days of power-sharing negotiations between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai over their respective roles in a proposed national unity government, political sources said.

But sources informed on the talks said negotiators were leaving it to South African President Thabo Mbeki, mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, to declare that the discussions have reached an impasse.

Sources in Tsvangirai's branch of the Movement for Democratic Change said Mr. Mugabe was adamantly refusing to cede any meaningful increment of his powers to Tsvangirai, who was tipped to become prime minister and co-govern with Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Sources said ZANU-PF was offering Tsvangirai control of the economic and social portfolios in the cabinet, while insisting he remain under Mr. Mugabe’s orders. Tsvangirai and his party insist that he must head the government as prime minister with full powers.

Negotiators on both sides said that while the issue of executive powers loomed as the main stumbling block to an accord that might end the country's lengthy political crisis, the issue of how long the new government would last seemed to have been settled with a clause allowing either party to withdraw after two and a half years, triggering national elections.

Tsvangirai’s MDC formation on Tuesday submitted a position paper outlining their minimum requirements, drawing complaints from ZANU-PF that Tsvangirai was backtracking.

But some ZANU-PF sources were also critical of Mr. Mugabe for refusing to sign onto the deal, and for insisting he would not allow Tsvangirai to represent him in cabinet meetings without first consulting his two vice presidents, Joseph Msika and Joyce Mujuru.

This was said to have given Tsvangirai time to regroup.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported from the negotiations venue that Mr. Mugabe delayed the resumption of talks by more than two hours.

President Mbeki for his part was under mounting pressure to conclude a deal ahead of the SADC summit opening Friday in Johannesburg during which he is to assume the rotating chairmanship of the regional organization.

South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad told reporters that Pretoria like other members of the regional grouping was hoping for the best.

Botswana has reiterated that it might not attend the summit if Mr. Mugabe appears there without having first struck a deal with Tsvangirai.

Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and its sister organizations in Zimbabwe and Swaziland were threatening to demonstrate at the summit against the presence of Mr Mugabe and King Mswati of Swaziland.

Pahad told reporters that Pretoria invites all members as a matter of course.

For perspective, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to Martha Mutisi, a doctoral candidate in conflict resolution at George Mason University in Washington.

Despite the looming clash, SADC Head of Communications Leefa Martin told reporter Carole Gombakomba that there is no reason to exclude Mr. Mugabe from the summit.

Senior Lecturer Temba Shoniwa of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg suggested that if there is not a deal in place by the time the summit opens, Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai should both be invited to defuse intra-regional tension.

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