Monday, July 21, 2008

Zimbabwe News Bulletin: ZANU-PF, MDC Factions, Sign Agreement to Hold Official Talks

Monday, July 21, 2008
17:27 Mecca time, 14:27 GMT

Zimbabwe parties sign agreement

Mugabe said he will talk to the MDC only if they recgonise him as president of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's ruling party, the Zanu-PF, and two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have signed a memorandum of understanding that will set the stage for formal talks to solve the country's political crisis, a senior government official has said.

Patrick Chinamasa, the justice minister, said on Monday would lay out a framework within which negotiations would be held under the mediation of Thabo Mbeki, the South African president.

Mbeki flew in from Johannesburg to join the ceremony and was met by Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, said Al Jazeera's Kalay Maistry from Johannesburg.

She added: "President [Robert] Mugabe has indeed met the leader of the opposition Morgan Tsvangirai. They were ushered into a room with South African president and the talks mediator Thabo Mbeki.

"So it is a very momentous occasion for Zimbabweans and everyone is hopig that this will now indeed be the first step in what will eventually lead to a lasting political and economic solution for zimbabwe."

International pressure for the parties to negotiate intensified after Mugabe won a one-man presidential run-off election, after it had been boycotted by Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, due to a wave of deadly attacks against his supporters.

The MDC says that at least 120 people have been killed in politically motivated violence.

Tsvangirai has previously refused to negotiate with Mugabe unless he and Zanu-PF recognised his victory in the first round of the presidential poll on March 29.

Memorandum of understanding

The South African government confirmed that Mbeki would fly to Harare, the capital, to oversee the signing between Zanu-PF and the MDC.

A foreign ministry statement read: "Mbeki will travel to Harare to facilitate the signing of a memorandum of understanding among the Zimbabwean political parties.

"The memorandum represents a positive step forward in the ongoing dialogue among the parties as facilitated by President Mbeki acting on behalf of SADC [Southern African Development Community]."

The move comes after a series of meetings between Mbeki, the rival parties and officials from the UN and African Union.

Haile Menkerios, the UN special representative to Zimbabwe, and Jean Ping, the African Union commission chairman, who met the parties over the weekend, had both expressed confidence the pact would be signed.

Menkerios said the draft, once signed, would clear the way for actual talks on the future of the country to take place.

Source: Agencies

Mugabe, Tsvangirai sign Zimbabwe framework deal

Mon Jul 21, 2008 11:38am EDT
By Cris Chinaka

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Monday signed a deal laying down the framework for formal talks on forming a power sharing government to end a deep political crisis.

It was the first meeting in 10 years between the two rivals, who are widely believed to detest each other. They sat at a conference table separated by South African President Thabo Mbeki who mediated the deal.

The preliminary agreement was signed in Harare's Rainbow Towers Hotel after weeks of deadlock since Mugabe was re-elected on June 27 in a widely condemned poll boycotted by Tsvangirai because of violence against his supporters.

Mbeki said the agreement committed both sides to an intense process to try to complete substantive negotiations as quickly as possible. "All parties recognize the urgency," he said.

A subdued Mugabe said after the signing that the agreement was "to chart a new way of political interaction," while Tsvangirai called the ceremony "a very historic occasion."

Officials from both sides said the framework agreement sets a two-week deadline for the government and two factions of the opposition MDC to discuss key issues including a unity government and how to hold new elections.

A government of national unity has been pushed as a solution to the crisis by the African Union and the regional body SADC (Southern African Development Community), both deeply concerned by Zimbabwe's political violence and an economic crisis that has flooded neighboring states with millions of refugees.

Tsvangirai's MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) and Mugabe's ZANU-PF are also committed under the agreement to ease political tension within the two-week deadline, officials said.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have been under heavy world and African pressure to enter negotiations, which are expected to be extremely tough. They have both demanded to be recognized as Zimbabwe's rightful president.

Mugabe called for an end to Western sanctions against him and his ruling circle and said there was no need for intervention from Europe in Zimbabwe. He has frequently called Tsvangirai a puppet of former colonial ruler Britain.

Zimbabwe's economic collapse under Mugabe's 28-year rule has plunged the once prosperous country into inflation of at least 2 million percent as well as crippling food and fuel shortages.

Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition faction, had previously refused to sign even a framework deal unless government militias stop violence he says has killed 120 of his supporters. He also demanded that Mugabe recognize his victory in the first round of the presidential poll on March 29.

The MDC leader pulled out of the run-off because of the heavy violence between the two rounds.

Mugabe, 84, blames the opposition for the bloodshed.


The turning point in ending the deadlock appeared to be a meeting last Friday between Mbeki, the African Union's top permanent official, Jean Ping, and U.N. envoy Haile Menkerios.

Mbeki, who has up to now negotiated alone as the designated regional mediator, agreed to expand the mediation process to include the African Union, United Nations and officials from the Southern African Development Community in a "reference group".

Mbeki is expected to liaise with the group although it will not be directly involved in negotiations.

Expansion of the mediation beyond Mbeki has been a key demand of Tsvangirai, who has strongly criticized the South African president, accusing him of favoring Mugabe.

Western powers, who have unsuccessfully tried to push targeted sanctions against Mugabe's circle and an arms embargo through the United Nations, also called for expanded mediation.

Mbeki, who favors a softly softly approach to Mugabe, has failed to end the crisis since he began mediating last year and has come under criticism both at home and abroad.

"Tsvangirai has so far done well to press for and win a role for both the AU and the UN in the mediation process, but he has to remain alert all the way because he is dealing with a foxy man -- Mugabe," said Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.

"The actual negotiations are going to be a lot tougher and the MDC's aim of easing Mugabe out of power or sharing executive power (with ZANU-PF) in a transitional government ahead of another election is going to be more difficult to get," he said.

(Additional reporting by Paul Simao and Marius Bosch in Johannesburg; Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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Tsvangirai to sign, says AU

Herald Reporter-AFP

MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has given his assurance that he will sign the Memorandum of Understanding between Zanu-PF, his party and the Arthur Mutambara-led MDC faction any time this week.

Although the African Union spokesperson, Mr Elghassim Wane, yesterday said they expected Tsvangirai to sign the MoU today, the parties could not give a specific date.

Zanu-PF, however, said they expected the signing to be done "sooner rather than later" while MDC-T said they were ready for the signing any time.

The memorandum, meant to establish a framework for substantive negotiations between the parties, was supposed to have been signed last Wednesday, but Tsvangirai backed out at the last minute.

Mr Wane also said AU Commission chairperson Mr Jean Ping, who flew out of the country on Saturday, was hopeful that the parties would sign the MoU.

"He (Mr Ping) is hopeful that a Memorandum of Understanding, which will outline the talks agenda and ground rules, will be signed tomorrow (today) with the MDC being part of it. Tsvangirai has given assurance of this," said Mr Wane.

It is understood that Mr Ping met President Mugabe, Tsvangirai and the Mutambara-led MDC faction at the weekend.

Tsvangirai’s close friend, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, also told BBC that the opposition leader had told him that he was willing to meet President Mugabe in South Africa.

"He told me that his team will be going to Pretoria for these preliminary talks. Depending on how they progress, he’s ready and willing to meet with Mr Mugabe out there in Pretoria," Odinga said.

UN representative Mr Haile Menkerios told AFP in a separate interview that President Mugabe and Tsvangirai had made "the first step" by agreeing to the draft.

"There is a draft which we are informed the two negotiating parties have agreed to, but the two principals, that is Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai, would have to sign," he told SABC radio.

"It hasn’t been signed yet, but once that is done, once you clear the way or the basis for the talks, then the actual talks begin."

Last night, Zanu-PF’s chief negotiator Cde Patrick Chinamasa said he was confident that Tsvangirai would sign soon.

"Tsvangirai should listen to the people of Zimbabwe who want peace and stability so that we can focus on economic recovery," he said.

MDC-T spokesperson Nelson Chamisa was quoted yesterday as saying that they were ready for "take-off".

"Now our best hope is that Zimbabweans will provide the necessary environment to enable the negotiations to start. Acts that undermine the negotiations should stop. Under a credible negotiated agreement, the MDC is ready for take-off," he said.

The movement towards fully-fledged negotiations came after a series of meetings involving the parties, South African President Thabo Mbeki (the Sadc-appointed and AU-endorsed sole mediator), Mr Menkerios and Mr Ping.

President Mbeki announced that the AU and the UN would form part of a reference group that he would periodically report to on progress in the dialogue process.

Cde Chinamasa said Zanu-PF was comfortable with the composition of this reference group.

"Our position is that President Mbeki is free to report to whoever he wishes. What is important is that he remains the sole mediator as per Sadc resolution and the AU’s endorsement," Cde Chinamasa said. — Herald Reporter-AFP.

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