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Progress Reported In Zimbabwe Crisis Talks; Mugabe Buy-In Now Key

Negotiators for Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change locked in crisis resolution talks in Pretoria have agreed in principle on several major items on their agenda, sources close to the talks say.

But the sources cautioned that it remains to be seen if President Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF politburo are prepared to embrace sweeping political reforms.

Sources in Pretoria and Harare said ZANU-PF negotiators agreed that there is need for reform of the electoral system, the media and harsh laws such as the Public Order and Security Act. They said real progress has been made on a new constitution.

But South African government sources said they are concerned ZANU-PF has again started to drag its feet at a critical juncture to buy time. Zimbabwe is headed for a round of presidential, parliamentary and local elections in March 2003.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, assigned by the Southern African Development Community to mediate the talks, had promised regional leaders he’d wind up the talks by the end of this month. But that deadline now seems unlikely to be met.

The ruling party delegates to the talks, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Labor Minister Nicholas Goche, have asked their counterparts from the opposition to adjourn the negotiations until October 29, citing “official business” abroad.

However, ZANU-PF insiders said the two negotiators must consult party leaders before making firm commitments, explaining the latest delay.

The MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai has threatened to pull out of the talks, charging that its members have been harassed and beaten by ZANU-PF supporters even as the ruling party negotiators discussed terms in Pretoria.

The question of political violence, Western sanctions against President Mugabe and his inner circle and the political use of food remain to be tackled, the sources said.

Researcher Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that success in the talks now hinges on political commitments from Mr. Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai .

Human rights lawyer Otto Saki, studying human rights law at Columbia University in New York, said it is hard to predict the outcome of the talks as Mr. Mugabe does not have a record of negotiating in good faith or adhering to his commitments.

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