Officials of Zimbabwe's ruling party and opposition on Friday disputed reports saying they have agreed to postpone national elections from March to June 2008.
The Zimbabwe Independent and South Africa's Business Day quoted sources close to the talks brokered by South Africa as saying negotiators agreed the elections should be put off to June and were awaiting approval from their political higher-ups.
But Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa quickly told the Reuters news agency there is “no question” of postponing the elections and that they will be held in March.
Sources close to the crisis talks said the negotiators – Chinamasa among them - did not have a chance to take up the issue of election timing as the talks were broken off upon the receipt late this week of news of the death of Chinamasa’s son.
Those sources said the parties were expected to take up the election date question in the next negotiating round, which will also look at Western sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and other top government and ruling party officials.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network said that as the constitutional amendment which President Mugabe signed this week will change the country's electoral system in important ways, a great deal of work including the delimitation of new constituencies and the revision of the voters roll remains to be done ahead of the elections.
But National Coordinator Jacob Mafume of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the election date matters less than the political will to ensure that the elections are free and fair.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...