Yet another round of negotiations on power-sharing in Zimbabwe opened Tuesday in South Africa at the urging of that nation's president, Kgalema Motlanthe, while from United Nations headquarters Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the parties to come to rapid agreement on forming a unity government to address a "desperate" humanitarian situation.
A statement issued by a U.N. spokeswoman said Ban was "alarmed that the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is now desperate and will worsen in the coming months." Millions need food assistance with a projected 5.1 million facing starvation by early 2009. Zimbabwe has also been ravaged by a cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 300 lives.Ban "urges all parties to support and provide humanitarian assistance leaving political considerations aside," said U.N. spokeswoman Michel Montas.
Negotiators for the long-ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change, whose dominant formation is headed by prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai, met in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton.
The talks were expected to focus on the constitutional amendment needed to establish the offices of prime minister and deputy prime minister, the latter to be exercised by rival MDC formation leader Arthur Mutambara. But Tsvangirai's MDC grouping submitted its version of the amendment and demanded the replacement of power-sharing facilitator Thabo Mbeki, until recently South African president, saying he has misrepresented discussions.
Diplomatic sources said African leaders and members of the international organization of eminent persons called the Elders
who were barred from Zimbabwe on Saturday, among them former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, were urging the MDC to agree to participate in the national unity government in order to take action on the humanitarian crisis.
But spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Tsvangirai MDC formation told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the party feels that the "entire basket of issues" must be resolved so that the unity government is legitimate and up to its urgent task.
Some observers said Tsvangirai was overplaying his hand by loading up the agenda at this stage, but independent analyst Hermann Hanekom of Cape Town disagreed.The Tsvangirai MDC formation also called on Mr. Mugabe’s government to arraign or release 15 party members said to have been seized in Mashonaland West province in late October and early November by agents of the Central Intelligence Organization. Police have ignored court orders obtained by MDC lawyers telling them to arraign or release the activists.
Security Secretary Giles Mutsekwa of the Tsvangirai MDC formation told Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the party has left the matter with its lawyers because it does not want to be seen as interfering with the course of justice.