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Zimbabwe Opposition Demands Electoral Reform As Proof Of Good Faith

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change is accusing the ruling party of bad faith in their ongoing South African-mediated crisis negotiations, charging that Harare has failed to implement agreements they have reached in the talks.

Opposition sources said negotiators from the two MDC factions will press for reform in the maintenance of the national voters roll as a critical test of ZANU-PF sincerity.

Opposition officials say the ruling party in past elections has manipulated the voters roll as one of its key rigging tactics, so they are determined to extract meaningful concessions on how the voters roll is updated and made available.

There has been a hiatus in the talks since late last week when Justice Minister Patrick Chinimasa, the ruling party's lead negotiator, received news of the death of his son.

No date has been set for the talks to resume, source close to the negotiations said.

Meanwhile, officials of the MDC faction of Morgan Tsvangirai are pressing for greater interaction with all political parties by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which declined to hold multi-party consultations as requested by MDC officials.

MDC sources said that if this contentious issue is not resolved the talks could collapse and under those circumstances the opposition might boycott the elections. Zimbabwe is headed for local, parliamentary and presidential elections in March 2008 - though some say the preparations required mean they'll have to be put off until June.

Secretary General Tendai Biti of the Tsvangirai faction, an opposition negotiator, told reporter Blessing Zulu that he and other MDC officials are deeply concerned about manipulation of the voters roll, though he declined to give particulars on the talks.

Meanwhile, Swedish Ambassador to Zimbabwe Sten Rylander issued a statement saying that Sweden and the international community were prepared to come up with a rescue package for Zimbabwe if the Pretoria talks resolve the crisis.

Rylander's statement said a good policy package from Harare including substantive political and economic reform would encourage support from donors.

Elsewhere, a report just issued by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations says it is time for a shift in American policy on Zimbabwe."Planning For Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe" says Washington should capitalize on African regional engagement in Zimbabwe among other developments and focus "not just on disapproval of the current regime, but also on a vision for the country's future and a plan for how to get there."

Author Michelle Gavin says U.S. policymakers should recognize that they "probably cannot compel President Mugabe and his loyalists to step aside." But, "engaging with other members of the international community now to map out a path for Zimbabwe's recovery is more than an exercise in advance planning," she argues.

"By working multilaterally to build consensus around governance-related conditions for reengagement, and by marshaling significant reconstruction resources in an international trust fund for Zimbabwe, the United States can help establish clear incentives for potential successors to Mugabe to embrace vital reform."

In doing so, "the United States can encourage and even hasten constructive forms of potential political change by affecting the calculus of those who are in a position to trigger a transition," Gavin writes. She adds that recovery and reconstruction planning can also help avert "worst-case scenarios of civil conflict, state collapse, and regional destabilization from taking hold during any future attempted political transition."

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