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Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai Shifts Focus From Talks To Humanitarian Crisis

Zimbabwe's prime minister-designate, Morgan Tsvangirai, said Wednesday that the latest round of talks on power-sharing by his Movement for Democratic Change and the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe were not making headway, and that his party would be shifting its main focus to the country's burgeoning humanitarian crisis.

Negotiators for ZANU-PF and both formations of the MDC - the other led by deputy prime minister-designate Arthur Mutambara - continued negotiations Wednesday in the Sandton suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, but with no progress reported.

International pressure on the Mugabe administration for concessions in the talks increased as Botswanan Foreign Minister Phando Skelemani said Zimbabwe's neighbors must impose their own sanctions on Harare if the current round of negotiations also dead-ends.

Zimbabwe's three main parties have been in negotiations since July, when a memorandum of agreement on talks was signed paving the way for a power-sharing agreement to be signed September 15. Since then, however, domestic and international optimism has drained away amid bitter wrangling over the composition of the cabinet for a unity government.

The catalyst for the latest talks was Harare's refusal to admit a delegation including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, members of the so-called Elders group of eminent persons, who wanted to assess humanitarian needs.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe urged the parties to the talks to resolve their differences and form a government to address the crisis - but seemingly to little avail.

In a major policy statement issued Wednesday, Tsvangirai said his MDC formation “is now committing itself to addressing the humanitarian crisis” in the country, saying that the Zimbabwean people had “mandated us to end their suffering.”

Millions of Zimbabweans depend on food aid to stave off starvation, and the number in that situation is expected to top 5 million by the beginning of next year. Meanwhile, a cholera epidemic has spread across the country, claiming hundreds of lives.

On the talks, Tsvangirai reiterated the demand by his MDC formation that Thabo Mbeki, mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis since March 2007, step down as power-sharing facilitator. He said Mbeki does not understand the crisis and "what needs to be done," and that the breakdown in his MDC's relationship with Mbeki is "irretrievable."

Sources said President Motlanthe urged Tsvangirai to meet face to face with Mbeki, but Tsvangirai responded that such a meeting would be an exercise in futility.

Tsvangirai’s ultimatum on Mbeki came despite the mediator’s agreement to include on the talks agenda all of the items the MDC had recently demanded, including a review of ministries, ambassadorial appointments and provincial governorships.

Mbeki had earlier indicated he wanted the talks to focus exclusively on the constitutional amendment to create the posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister.

Tsvangirai also criticized President Mugabe's reappointment of Gideon Gono as Reserve Bank governor for another five years, saying Gono has been the “architect” of the country's economic collapse and has plundered national treasury on behalf of ZANU-PF.

International relations expert David Monyae of the University of South Africa told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that an atmosphere of mistrust has enveloped the talks, blocking any meaningful progress.

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