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Talk Of Meeting Between Tsvangirai And Elders Delegation Riles Harare

The government of Zimbabwe bristled Friday at reports that prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai might meet in Johannesburg on the eve of a visit to Zimbabwe by three members of the international group of eminent persons known as the Elders.

But Tsvangirai told reporters in Germany on Thursday that he expected to meet with former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and human rights activist Graça Machel, wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The three were scheduled to travel to Zimbabwe on Saturday for a two-day visit to assess humanitarian conditions in the country.

But a U.S.-based spokeswoman for the Elders and officials of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change refused to confirm or otherwise comment on the meeting.

The trip to Zimbabwe by the three elders was also uncertain.

Zimbabwean state media said this week that Harare was urging the three to put off the trip. The Herald newspaper said the Elders group was hostile to Zimbabwe and accused Annan of being "openly critical” of President Robert Mugabe and his administration in the past.

Annan responded that the group intended to follow through on its planned visit, and said that the elders were primarily focused on the humanitarian crisis. Millions of Zimbabweans are dependent on food distributions for their survival, and cholera is claiming many lives.

Tsvangirai warned in Germany that if the impasse in power sharing is not overcome and no national unity government is put in place, the country faces disaster two months from now when five million Zimbabweans are projected to need assistance to fend off starvation.

A senior official in the Mugabe administration told VOA that the government would consider it an "extreme provocation" if the three Elders met with Tsvangirai before President Mugabe – though no visit with the president had been publicly mooted.

Johannesburg-based political analyst Joy Mabhenge told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that meeting Tsvangirai in his capacity as prime minister designate would surely not constitute a breach of protocol.

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