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Talks With Police Underway for Surrender of Zimbabwean President's Wife

FILE - A bee hovers near Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe's head, as an aide comes to her assistance, during a funeral service in Harare, May, 13, 2017. Mugabe faces charges of assault after an incident at a plush Johannesburg, South Africa, hotel.

The whereabouts of Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe are unknown as South African police and her lawyers negotiate terms to turn herself in to face charges of assaulting a young woman at a luxury Johannesburg hotel.

South African authorities said Mugabe did not appear in court after police minister Fikile Mbalula initially had said Mugabe had "cooperated and handed herself over" to police on Tuesday. He said Mugabe "will be charged."

A senior police source later said, "The negotiations for her to hand herself in are still going on. We are at a point where we cannot effect an arrest yet."

Reuters, citing a senior unnamed Zimbabwean government official, reported the first lady returned Tuesday to her homeland.

"She is back in the country," the official said, and added administration officials "don't know where this issue of assault charges is coming from."

Some South African news organizations reported that an arrest warrant had not been prepared. A court official told VOA that he did not have a docket with Mugabe's name on it.

The 52-year-old wife of President Robert Mugabe is accused of beating 20-year-old Gabriella Engels on Sunday with an extension cord as she visited Mugabe's sons in a hotel. Photos posted on social media show Engels, a professional model, with a bloody gash on her forehead.

It was not immediately clear what precipitated the alleged assault.

The allegation against the first lady threatened to trigger a diplomatic disagreement between South Africa and Zimbabwe, neighboring countries with a strong political and economic relationship.

Grace Mugabe, 52, is considered a possible successor to her 93-year-old husband, who has ruled Zimbabwe since gaining independence from colonial British rule in 1980.