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Zimbabwe Crisis Talks Pause Pending Clarification Of AU Mediation Role

Talks between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change preliminary to power-sharing negotiations have been suspended pending the outcome of consultations between President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping in Pretoria Friday as to the composition of the mediation team.

MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai says he asked Ping and received a promise that the African Union would name an envoy to mediate alongside Mr. Mbeki, appointed mediator in March 2007 by the Southern African Development Community in March 2007.

Sources informed on the talks denied reports that ZANU-PF and the MDC formation headed by Arthur Mutambara had signed the memorandum of understanding that is on the table, saying that consultations between all the parties to the talks were still underway.

The Harare talks could also be influenced by the outcome of a two-day meeting of the SADC troika on politics and defense in Durban, South Africa. SADC sources said the three-nation steering committee would look at the Zimbabwe crisis and other regional security issues.

Political analyst Hermann Hanekom of Cape Town, South Africa, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that expanding the mediation team is critical because Mr. Mbeki has been struggling to solve the crisis alone, and is not trusted by the MDC.

Meanwhile, church leaders from the Southern African Development Community region submitted a petition to Mr. Mbeki’s office on Thursday asking him to step up his efforts to find a political solution in Zimbabwe and urging him to mediate more firmly.

General Secretary M.D. Dibeela of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa presented the petition after a meeting of church leaders in Pretoria to discuss the crisis and determine what role churches could play in resolving the post-election impasse.

VOA reporter Carole Gombakomba interviewed Rev. Ray Motsi, chairman of the Zimbabwe National Pastor’s Conference, who said the conference and petition were entirely focused on finding a solution for Zimbabwe.

Elsewhere, sources in Bulawayo said about 20 opposition youths were severely beaten and arrested after they staged a demonstration to press for expansion of the mediation team. It was the first political protest in the city since the June 27 presidential run-off election in which President Robert Mugabe claimed victory to widespread international condemnation.

Some residents who had planned to join the demonstration backed off when police forcefully suppressed the march leaving some protesters bleeding and others with broken limbs.

MDC spokesman for Bulawayo province Felix Mafa-Sibanda told reporter Chris Gande that the protest was also objecting to the ongoing political violence which the opposition says has left more than 100 members dead and thousands more injured.

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