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Despite Last-Ditch Harare Demarche, Accord Eludes S. Africa's Mbeki

Despite a high-profile visit Thursday to Zimbabwe by South African President Thabo Mbeki in an effort to resolve outstanding differences between the ruling party and its opposition in reform negotiations, a breakthrough accord seemed out of reach.

Following meetings with President Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders, Mbeki told reporters that the crisis resolution process he has been mediating since March 2007 "is really working," maintaining that there has been "very good progress."

The so-called SADC process was launched by the Southern African Development Community last March following an upsurge in political violence in Zimbabwe. The regional body asked Mr. Mbeki to serve as mediator in the negotiations.

But some of those close to the process suggested that Mr. Mbeki's apparent failure to sway President Mugabe on key sticking points - in particular the date for the upcoming national elections - left the negotiations on the verge of collapse.

Mr. Mbeki said that "everybody is conscious of the elections that are coming in March. But they are also conscious of the tasks that have to be carried out."

He did not expand on that subject, Agence France-Press reported.

A senior official of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change told VOA that the talks are "dead and buried" in the aftermath of Mr. Mbeki's high-stakes demarche. He flew into Harare late Thursday morning, met for several hours with Mr. Mugabe, then with leaders of both MDC factions, then returned for a follow-up with the president.

Sources in Harare and Pretoria told VOA that Mr. Mugabe remained adamant that the presidential, general and local elections must go ahead in March. The opposition has demanded that they be postponed so that the negotiations can be concluded, a new constitution can be put into place, and electoral reforms can be implemented.

Mr. Mbeki emerged from his second meeting with President Mugabe and made a terse announcement that the crisis resolution talks would continue.

Harare correspondent Thomas Chiripasi described Mr. Mbeki's diplomacy shuttling between Mr. Mugabe at State House to meetings with opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara at the South African Embassy - formerly the High Commission when Zimbabwe was still a member of the Commonwealth.

Political analyst Joy Mabhenge of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development told reporter Zulu earlier that Mr. Mbeki was taking direct control of the so-called SADC process in an effort to save the talks from complete collapse.

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