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Under South African Mediation, A Tenuous Zimbabwean Dialogue Opens

Much-anticipated face-to-face Zimbabwe crisis talks between the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change finally got under way in Pretoria, overcoming last-minute political hitches.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, regionally appointed mediator in the talks, met on Saturday with secretaries general Tendai Biti of the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube of the Arthur Mutambara MDC formation.

Mr. Mbeki’s team also met with a ZANU-PF delegation led by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Labor Minister Nicholas Goche.

Representatives of both sides confirmed the talks took place. However, Zimbabwean State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa and Tsvangirai MDC faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa declined to provide details as to the content of the talks.

But South African sources privy to the discussions said the agenda of the talks, being chaired by South African Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi, prominently featured electoral reform and an overhaul of the Zimbabwean constitution, perhaps along lines drafted by Ncube and Chinimasa in 2003-2004 in earlier talks.

Political analyst Hermann Hanekom told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Mbeki still faces an uphill task in trying to resolve the crisis.

On Friday in Washington, Ugandan peace envoy Betty Bigombe told a gathering that a genuine mediation process involving all stakeholders is needed to end the crisis.

Addressing guests at the United States Institute of Peace, where she is a senior fellow, Bigombe, now mediating the conflict between the Kampala government of President Yoweri Museveni and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, said many African countries are in crises today because leaders tend to justify the actions of some brutal regimes on the basis that they were once elected by a democratic process.

Bigombe, a former minister of state pacification in Uganda, described as unfortunate the attitude of African leaders on Zimbabwe and Uganda, where she said they stood by and watched as thousands of Ugandans were massacred.

Bigombe, at work on a book entitled “Turning War into Peace,” told reporter Carole Gombakomba that although Zimbabwe is not at war, the mediation process currently underway is necessary to prevent the situation from running out of control.

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