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Unity Government Talks in Zimbabwe Could Open Door to 'Pirate' Radio Stations

Discussions among the three parties sharing power in Harare have focused on the need for accelerated media reform and demands by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party for action against 'pirate' radio stations

The Zimbabwean government could invite broadcasters who transmit news to the country from outside its borders to set up in Harare if negotiators for the parties in the troubled unity government get their way, sources said Wednesday.

Discussions among the three parties sharing power in Harare have focused on the need to accelerate media reform along with charges by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party that what it describes as “pirate” stations - including VOA's Studio 7 - violate the 2008 Global Political Agreement.

The agreement calls upon foreign governments operating or funding broadcasts to Zimbabwe to cease such activity, and for Zimbabweans broadcasting from abroad to return to the country and operate under a national license.

The development came amid mounting pressure from South African President Jacob Zuma and his team of facilitators for the unity partners to settle all of the outstanding issues that have troubled power-sharing from the outset.

Sources informed on the discussions said the negotiators also propose to adopt the original version of Constitutional Amendment 19. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's formation of the Movement for Democratic Change says the draft was altered by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa before its passage.

In addition, the sources said, the parties to the power-sharing arrangement will form a tripartite committee to urge the West to lift targeted sanctions.

President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara were to meet next Monday to discuss the results of the talks, and were expected to ask Mr. Zuma for more time - though committing to wrapping up the negotiations before Christmas.

Remaining issues include tough ones including the leadership of the Reserve Bank and the office of the Attorney General - posts filled by Mr. Mugabe in late 2008 without consulting his future partners in government - and the swearing in of Roy Bennett as deputy agriculture minister. Bennett, the Tsvangirai MDC's treasurer, is currently on trial for an alleged anti-government conspiracy.

Political analyst Teresa Mugadza told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that if there is the political will, negotiations can be concluded in short order.

The government of Botswana, meanwhile, has rejected charges by Harare that it is hosting “pirate” radio stations within its territory.

The issue of foreign broadcasts has loomed large in negotiations. ZANU-PF has lodged a complaint with the Southern African Development Community saying stations like Studio 7 are relaying “hostile” messages from Botswana.

But a statement issued by a Gaborone spokesman this week said there is nothing exceptional about the VOA relay station situated on its territory.

The British Broadcasting Corporation has some 60 relay facilities in Africa, a third in SADC member states.

Botswanan government spokesman Jeff Ramsay told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that the VOA facility in Selebi-Pikwe has been in operation for three decades and was built to beam to the region, not just Zimbabwe.

London-based political analyst and rights lawyer Julius Mutyambizi-Dewa commended the government of Botswana for what he described as its solidarity with the news-hungry people of Zimbabwe.