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S. Africa's Mbeki Opens Zimbabwe Mediation Process To Civic Groups

South African President Thabo Mbeki has agreed to meet with Zimbabwean civil society leaders within scope of his effort to mediate a solution to the crisis.

His decision came as Southern African Development Community leaders gathered in Lusaka, Zambia, for the organization’s ordinary meeting. SADC appointed Mr Mbeki mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis at an extraordinary summit in late March. He is to deliver a progress report on the mediation talks to his regional peers next week.

Sources in Pretoria said Mr. Mbeki's decision to meet with civil society representatives was prompted not only by pressure from civic leaders but also by frustration with the principals in the talks. Representatives of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party have failed to show up for negotiation sessions, while tentative moves by the divided opposition towards reunification were recently dealt a major setback.

Last week MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara announced his formation was pulling out of the Save Zimbabwe Coalition, in which his faction and the rival grouping led by Morgan Tsvangirai had been cooperating, and that it would run its own presidential candidate in March 2008 to challenge incumbent President Robert Mugabe.

Political analyst John Makumbe said Mr. Mbeki agreed to meet civil society leaders on the margins of the talks, but specified that he would not give them a third chair.

Coordinator Jacob Mafume of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, one of the groups brought into the crisis talks framework, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the civic groups are pleased to be more closely involved.

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