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Zimbabwe Leaders Sign Agreement on Formal Talks

President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the founding president of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have signed an agreement on the framework for formal talks. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

The agreement was signed in the presence of the mediator, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and was sealed with a handshake between President Robert Mugabe and MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai. It is the first time the two have met in 10 years.

Mr. Mbeki said that the agreement commits the parties to an intense program to finalize negotiations as soon as possible.

Mr. Mbeki said all the parties recognize the urgency of the issues they will negotiate and are committed to completing the process as soon as possible.

An African diplomat close to the process earlier told VOA the MDC was anxious to set deadlines for conclusion of negotiations within two weeks; and also time frames for implementation of any agreements reached in the talks.

During talks last year between the parties, adoption of a new constitution was agreed to, but no time frames were set. Mr. Mugabe reneged on an agreement that the constitution would be implemented in time for elections held earlier this year.

After signing the agreement, Mr. Mugabe said that he and the opposition leaders have agreed to various amendments to the constitution.

The talks will focus on the formation of a government of national unity and the cessation of violence.

It is expected that reaching agreement on a unity government will be very difficult. Mr. Mugabe has made it clear he wants to head that government and wants the opposition to recognize him as the legitimate president of the country.

Mr. Tsvangirai holds that to be untrue, given the findings of all observer groups in last month's widely discredited presidential runoff election that it was not free, not fair and failed to reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people.

Mr. Mugabe was the only candidate in that runoff after Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew because of widespread violence targeting his supporters and officials of his party.

It is widely expected the Zimbabwe talks will get under way within days.