Zimbabwe's troubled power-sharing process was left in limbo late Monday as leaders of the Southern African Development Community who were attempting to broker a last-ditch deal between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai came up empty-handed and punted the matter to a special SADC summit one week's time.
"This is a sad day for Zimbabwe," Tsvangirai told reporters upon emerging from the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare, the same venue where he, Mugabe and rival opposition leader Arthur Mutambara last Sept. 15 signed a power-sharing pact that was supposed to give rise to a unity government but has since bogged down over just how power will be shared.
Tsvangirai told reporters he is still committed to the power-sharing deal, but said ZANU-PF must show its sincerity by making further concessions.
Mr. Mugabe told reporters,"The meeting was not successful; it broke down."
He said SADC officials including South African President Kgalema Motlanthe had proposed a solution to get a government afoot, but Tsvangirai's formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change had tabled a counter-proposal at odds with the SADC plan.
Mr. Mugabe said his ZANU-PF and the MDC would continue talks in Harare to see if they can find common ground, then will take the discussion to the SADC summit.
Mutambara, like Tsvangirai, declared it "a sad day" for the country. He said the talks failed because Mr. Mugabe and Tsvangirai could not agree, calling their positions "untenable."
He said Zimbabwe "deserves better leaders than Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai."
Most observers had not voiced optimism as to the chances of a breakthrough deal in these talks. Tsvangirai, who leads the dominant formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, had repeated that he would not join a government without a fair distribution of cabinet seats and other key posts, also demanding the release of opposition activists held on charges they conspired to topple the government. Mugabe said he would make no more concessions.
Reflecting keen regional concern, Monday's session was attended by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza and SADC Secretary General Tomaz Salomao, as well as longtime Zimbabwe mediator Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa until late last year. But the high-level SADC intervention was to no avail.
Salomao told reporters around midnight that the Tsvangirai MDC formation had presented its positions on the appointment of provincial governors and other top posts, on the alleged violation of the power-sharing agreement by Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, and on the composition of a proposed national security council governing security forces.
Salomao said the SADC officials had made recommendations - but that these would only be made public after they have been presented to an extraordinary SADC summit to be held on Jan. 26, either at SADC headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana, or in South Africa.
A similar summit was held in Pretoria, South Africa, in October - without yielding the hoped-for agreement between the Zimbabwean parties.
As the comments from the principals indicated, diplomatic niceties did not conceal that what most observers saw as a make-or-break negotiating session had failed to yield results.
Power-sharing remains a possibility - but an increasingly distant one.
The approach was intended to provide a structure for coexistence by the long-ruling ZANU-PF party of President Mugabe and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, which in the March elections claimed a parliamentary majority but failed to unseat Mr. Mugabe although electoral officials acknowledged Tsvangirai achieved a plurality over the aging leader.
For ZANU-PF the arrangement offered the chance of retaining a significant measure of control over the country despite the MDC's electoral inroads, while for the MDC the power-sharing solution offered hope of an end to political violence mainly targeting the opposition.
Ordinary Zimbabweans welcomed the power-sharing agreement because it promised a more politically balanced and responsible government which could, with the help of foreign donors, move to resuscitate the economy and expand food aid and other humanitarian relief.
Correspondent Irwin Chifera of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe was at the Rainbow Towers venue earlier Monday evening and provided an update on the high-stakes negotiations.
Observers earlier said that in light of recent declarations by the principals, the talks did not seem likely to break the impasse between President Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
Political analyst John Makumbe told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that the positions of the two leaders before the meeting suggested the talks were doomed to failure.
National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said statements made ahead of the meeting could be misleading as the parties have shifted their positions in the past - but acknowledged that the odds were against a breakthrough agreement.More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...