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Zimbabwe's Political Parties Meet in S. Africa on Future Negotiations

Delegates from Zimbabwe's main political parties are meeting in Pretoria, South Africa to discuss future negotiations toward ending the crisis in Zimbabwe. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

Talks between representatives from the two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Party, and President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party are under way in Pretoria, an African diplomat close to the mediation process told VOA.

The delegates are talking about how to overcome stumbling blocks in the way of full negotiations about Zimbabwe's political future, according to an African diplomat close to situation.

The difficulties appear immense and are mostly the result of the widely discredited runoff presidential election last month that was marked by widespread violence overwhelmingly perpetrated against members of the opposition and civil society groups by supporters of Mr. Mugabe.

That violence continues and bringing it to an end is one of the fundamental demands the two MDC factions are presenting at these preliminary talks.

Independent political analyst Chris Maroleng says other serious challenges center around how the various parties view each other's legitimacy.

"Unless the mediator is able to deal with the key sticking points in terms of recognition and credibility of the various parties to this negotiation, one would argue that the distance or asymmetry that exists between these two main political parties, would act as a stumbling block towards really having a positive outcome emanating from this current period," he said.

While all the parties seem to have agreed that the way forward may be a transitional government of national unity, Maroleng says achieving that is going to be extremely difficult.

"On the one hand President Robert Mugabe insists on being recognized by the MDC as being legitimately elected and therefore having the right to convene such a government," he said. "While the MDC would argue that since they won the elections that were viewed to be largely free and fair on the the 29th of March, they should actually have the right to convene and determine the composition of a government of national unity."

Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF has been anxious to get negotiations under way, perhaps to prevent the adoption this week of United Nations sanctions.

But Maroleng cautions that if Mr. Mugabe does not get his way at the preliminary talks in Pretoria, the fear of sanctions may be overcome by anger and lead to a total disengagement by his ZANU-PF party, followed by increased suppression of the opposition and civil society.