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Harare Launches Healing & Reconciliation Process Amid NGO Objections

Zimbabwe's unity government on Friday opened three days of national reflection on healing and reconciliation during which the main political parties were to spread the message of non-violence, but civil society groups expressed misgivings about the process.

Harare correspondent Sylvia Manika of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported that that the unity government principals - President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara - called for an end to political violence.

"These three days of dedication must herald the beginning of a genuine, open and frank process that includes and incorporates the concept of transitional justice, truth and accepting responsibility for the hurt and pain inflicted upon so many Zimbabweans," Mr. Tsvangirai told the gathering. "There can be no truth without justice. And no justice without truth."

He said the peace and reconciliation process is critical to the nation's ability to move through the current phase of power-sharing to rewrite the national constitution and hold elections in an environment of "tolerance, respect for the rights of the individual and the rule of law."

Zimbabwe was wracked by violence following presidential, general and local elections last year, with more than 200 people left dead and many seriously injured. Most of the victims were members of the then-opposition Movement for Democratic Change which had claimed a parliamentary majority in the elections, deposing the long-ruling ZANU-PF party.

The Civil Society Monitoring Mechanism, an ad hoc group formed to track the government's fulfillment of the September 2008 power-sharing agreement that led to the formation of the unity government in February, expressed concern the government had not “substantively” consulted non-governmental organizations and the general population on the process.

It added that sustainable peace could not be achieved so long as violence and human rights violations continued, calling official efforts to belatedly involve civil society a “lame attempt at legitimacy” and a ploy by some elements of the government to gloss over violations.

For perspective, Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu turned to Yasmin Sooka, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cape Town, a participant in truth and reconciliation processes in post-apartheid South Africa and post-conflict Sierra Leone.

Sooka said the principals in Zimbabwe's unity government must be guided by what the Zimbabwean people say instead of imposing a program on them.

Pretoria-based political analyst George Mkhwanazi told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that Mr Tsvangirai’s push for justice as a condition for peace is sure to be resisted by ZANU-PF diehards, some of whom have been accused of using violence for political purposes.

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