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Mbeki Says Zimbabwe Talks to Continue After Regional Summit

August 18, 2008

Text of report by South Africa-based ZimOnline website on 18 August

[Report by oown correspondent: "Zim Talks To Continue after Summit: Mbeki"]

JOHANNESBURG – South African President Thabo Mbeki said on Sunday the region’s organ on security and politics would continue to meet with Zimbabwe’s political leaders in search of a “speedy resolution” to the country’s crippling political crisis.

“The (organ) continues to engage with this matter and indeed after we have formally closed the organ will convene again, it is an indication of the seriousness with which the SADC approaches this question,” Mbeki said in his address closing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit that began in Johannesburg on Saturday.

“A speedy conclusion (needs to be reached) so that it indeed becomes possible to address the enormous challenges that face the masses of the people of Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed to reach a power sharing agreement during talks on the sidelines of the regional summit.

“We’re finished,” said George Sibotshiwe, spokesman for Tsvangirai, referring to the opposition leader’s meetings with regional leaders at the summit. “There is no deal yet,” he added.

Tsvangirai had earlier on Sunday said the power-sharing negotiations were going “very well”.

Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF [Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front] party and the opposition – Tsvangirai’s MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] party and a breakaway faction of the opposition led by Arthur Mutambara – have been locked in negotiations for a power sharing deal that would see them forming a government of national unity that analysts say is the best way to end the country’s long-running political and economic crisis.

The crisis worsened after Mugabe was re-elected unopposed in a widely condemned June 27 presidential run-off vote that Tsvangirai boycotted because of state orchestrated attacks on his supporters.

The run-off election was held because Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round voting on March 29 but failed to secure the margin required to takeover power.

Mbeki, who assumed the SADC chairmanship at the weekend summit and is also the region’s mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, is under immense pressure to secure a deal and has come under repeated fire for not being tough on Mugabe while Zimbabwe’s hardships continue to worsen.

In a sign of growing hostility towards Mugabe within the region, Botswana President Seretse Khama Ian Khama boycotted the SADC summit over the invitation of the Zimbabwean leader whose legitimacy Botswana does not recognise.

Zambian foreign minister Kabinga Pande voiced his country’s criticism of “regrettable events” in Zimbabwe that he said had “no doubt left a serious blot on the culture of democracy in our sub region.”

The power-sharing talks appear to have stalled as neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe seemed to be compromising on the issue of who will wield real power to run the country.

Diplomats said on Saturday leaders of the 14-nation SADC bloc had discussed a draft agreement in a closed session of the summit with both Mugabe and Tsvangirai in attendance.

Millions of Zimbabweans have fled across borders to escape the world’s highest inflation rate of over 2 million per cent as well as high unemployment and shortages of basic goods.

Originally published by ZimOnline, Johannesburg, in English 18 Aug 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Africa. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.