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Official Optimism, General Caution As Zimbabwe Crisis Talks Open In Pretoria

Ending 48 hours of delays, Zimbabwean power-sharing talks between the country's ruling ZANU-PF party and both formations of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change got under way Thursday at an undisclosed location in the South African capital of Pretoria.

Spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga of the office of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating the negotiations, said the talks had started and expressed confidence they would quickly conclude. But he said this might not necessarily happen in two weeks as stated in the memorandum of understanding signed Monday setting broad terms for the discussions.

Mr. Mbeki, in France for a South Africa-European Union summit, was expected to urge EU officials to drop sanctions against top Harare officials including President Robert Mugabe and Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono in the interest of encouraging an agreement.

Sources in Pretoria and Harare say a deal could be reached soon as these talks pick up from an earlier round launched in March 2007 which hit a dead-end in January of this year. These sources say the parties had agreed on issues including Western sanctions, land reform and a new constitution before Mr. Mugabe refused to make some key compromises.

But political observers say the very nature of the power-sharing arrangement contemplated in the talks agenda presents a formidable challenge. The ZANU-PF politburo resolved this week that it will insist on a full-term government of national unity, while many in the opposition want a transitional authority which would set up new elections within two years.

Political analyst John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that accord on such fundamental points has been elusive.

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