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Parties in Zimbabwe's Troubled Unity Government Agree to Stop Political Violence

The public outreach phase of Zimbabwe's constitutional revision process has been troubled by reports of intimidation of members of the public and supporters of the main MDC formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai

Top politicians from the three parties sharing power in Zimbabwe's national unity government, troubled from the start, met Wednesday with the leaders of the body established to promote national healing and reconciliation and agreed in principle to put a stop to political violence cropping up as the country overhauls its constitution.

The politburo of President Robert Mugabe's long-ruling ZANU-PF party and the national executives of both formations of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change met with the co-chairs of the Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration aiming to reduce political tensions which have been rising in recent weeks.

The public outreach phase of the constitutional revision process, launched in mid-June, has been troubled by reports of intimidation of members of the public and supporters of the main MDC formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai by ZANU-PF backers including liberation war veterans, youth militia and state security agents.

Senior ZANU-PF officials have denied that supporters of the party have engaged in such tactics to drum up support for provisions of the new constitution which Mr. Mugabe's party wants to see incorporated.

Sources privy to Wednesday's discussion said the main issues raised by the three parties included the partisan nature of the national security apparatus and the system of traditional chiefs who wield considerable power in rural areas.

MDC officials accused the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and the state-controlled Herald newspaper, generally considered a ZANU-PF mouthpiece, of bias and promoting divisions in the country.

The meeting was co-chaired by Zimbabwean Vice President John Nkomo, who is a top ZANU-PF official as well, and Gibson Sibanda of the MDC formation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

ZANU-PF Secretary for Administration Didymus Mutasa, who is also a minister of state for security reporting directly to President Mugabe, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu the meeting was constructive and historic.

Such discussions between senior officials of ZANU-PF and the MDC have been rare in the past decade during which the MDC has made its way from a startup opposition formation to a party of government.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the larger MDC formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who founded the party in 1999 and is president of that grouping, agreed with Mutasa’s assessment of the meeting.

Offering perspective on the session, political analyst Trevor Maisiri, executive director of Africa Reform, said the three main political parties seemed to have good intentions, but added that implementation is another matter.

The meeting built on a stipulation in a July 2008 memorandum of understanding between Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Mutambara that laid the foundation for the September 2008 Global Political Agreement on the basis of which the current unity or inclusive government was formed in February 2009. Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai both took responsibility for the political violence that following the March 2008 presidential and general elections.

The MDC has charged that hundreds of its supporters were murdered by ZANU-PF militants in a wave of violence that led Mr. Tsvangirai to pull out of the June 2008 presidential run-off election, leaving Mr. Mugabe unopposed.