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Zimbabwe President Mugabe Seeks To Cool Diplomatic Row With Pretoria

Climbing down from previous statements telling regional leaders not to meddle in Zimbabwe's business, Mugabe spokesman George Charamba said Harare’s quarrel with SADC was over minor points

A spokesman for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe sought Wednesday to heal a rift between Harare and South African President Jacob Zuma over Zuma's role as mediator in Zimbabwe for the Southern African Development Community.

Mr. Zuma and the presidents of Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique broke with SADC’s history of glossing over allegations of human rights violations by Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and condemned political violence and arrests in a recent regional mini-summit.

The state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper sharply criticized Mr. Zuma, calling him "erratic" and an unsuitable mediator in the long-running Zimbabwe crisis. The Pretoria presidency issued a statement urging the Zimbabwean government to communicate its views through diplomatic channels and to focus on fulfilling the terms of the Global Political Agreement for power sharing in Zimbabwe, basis for the unity government.

Mugabe spokesman George Charamba stepped into the fray on Wednesday with a long article in the state-controlled Herald newspaper which among other comments said that observers had conflated the Sunday Mail diatribe with official Harare views.

Charamba said Harare’s quarrel with SADC was over minor points and that Harare has no problem with the SADC communique issued at the end of last week's summit.

"A lot of dire reading has been made out of this week's Sunday Mail editorial comment and an opinion piece it carried on the same matter," said Charamba.

"The opinion of the Sunday Mail has been conflated with the opinion of the government of Zimbabwe. I hope this article which reflects views and concerns of the government of Zimbabwe puts this needless conflation to rest," he concluded.

Reached by VOA Studio 7, Charamba refused to comment substantively.

There were fears that the diplomatic row would compromise Pretoria’s mediation efforts in Zimbabwe, but Charamba said Harare respects SADC’s recommendations.

Envoys representing Mr. Zuma were expected in Harare on Thursday to meet with unity government negotiators discussing a road-map to the next elections.

Political analyst Trevor Maisiri says Harare cannot afford to antagonize Pretoria.