July 1, 2008

African Union Draft Calls on Zimbabwean Parties to Commit to Negotiated Settlement

Text of report by South African newspaper The Star website on 1 July

[Report by Fiona Forde: "Strong AU Action on Zimbabwe Seems Unlikely"]

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt - Hopes for a tough resolution that will bring an end to Zimbabwe's political crisis were fading as the African Union summit entered its second and final day.

A draft copy of the resolution tabled for discussion yesterday and today, which is in The Star's possession, suggests that the 53- member bloc is not prepared to go any further than call on the main political players in Zimbabwe "to commit to a negotiated and peaceful solution".

The document, agreed upon by 15 foreign ministers at Sunday's pre- summit meeting, also calls on Zimbabwe's political parties to refrain from violence and to call on their supporters to follow suit.

While the eight-point draft also "denounces the acts of violence and the loss of lives" in the run-up to Friday's run-off, it falls short of the much-hoped-for condemnation of the heavily disputed poll, and the violence and intimidation that observer groups of the Southern African Development Community and the Pan African Parliament say characterised it.

President Thabo Mbeki withheld any pronouncement on Mugabe's legitimacy for a second day, with his spokesperson saying he was waiting to be briefed by the AU and SADC.

What shape the proposed peaceful solution might take is likely to be the bone of contention that will divide the heads of state meeting in this Red Sea resort town.

The recently negotiated government of national unity in Kenya is the example that many like to tout at the summit, while a considerable number of delegates believe President Robert Mugabe doesn't have the moral authority to continue in political life.

Although the Movement for Democratic Change withdrew from Friday's presidential run-off, it will not boycott its seats in parliament, writes Basildon Peta.

MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said yesterday his party had taken control of parliament for the first time since Mugabe's rule in 1980. It would therefore be unwise to boycott parliament whenever it is eventually opened.

"We will not forfeit our parliamentary majority," said Chamisa.

Mugabe has stalled opening parliament since he lost his majority in the House on March 29. No date has been set, and everyone appears to be waiting for him to return from the AU summit.

Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC controls 100 seats after three by- elections held with the presidential run-off on June 27. Tsvangirai won one and Mugabe's ZANU-PF two.

Mugabe will now have 99 seats in parliament, with the other 10 held by a splinter faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara. The other seat is held by independent legislator Jonathan Moyo.

The combined opposition hence commands an 11-seat majority.

Meanwhile, during a briefing yesterday, US Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer said it would be wrong to propose a one-size- fits-all solution to the Zimbabwean crisis. She said that while it was the election result that divided Kenya in January, "the people of Zimbabwe spoke clearly on March 29 when they opted for a change of leadership by electing the MDC".

Frazer also said the US government supported the MDC's call for the SADC negotiations to be expanded to AU level.

While she believed Mbeki could still play a part in such a mandate, the situation required a full-time envoy to the country to negotiate daily with all sides, "not unlike the role (former UN secretary-general) Kofi Annan played in Kenya".

The US envoy said she was confident that the summit would deliver a strong resolution when it concludes this evening, despite yesterday's opening ceremony during which no mention was made of Mugabe and there was only carefully couched criticism of his party's undemocratic behaviour.

"I would suggest not to take the soft words of the opening plenary as a reflection of the deep concern of the leaders here for the situation in Zimbabwe," Frazer said.

"I would expect them to have very, very strong words for him."

However, many African countries are firmly against sanctions.

Originally published by The Star website, Johannesburg, in English 1 Jul 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Africa. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.