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Zimbabwe Talks Under Way in Pretoria


South Africa has confirmed that talks between rival Zimbabwean political parties are under way. The talks are aimed resolving the current political stalemate in Zimbabwe and setting the country on the path to social and economic recovery. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

South African President Thabo Mbeki's spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitango, tells VOA that all the Zimbabwean delegates are present and that talks are under way.

The delegates, from Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF, and both factions of the Movement for Democratic Change, are expected to devote the next 14 days, uninterrupted, to the negotiations.

There have been reports that it may be possible for the delegates to reach final agreement within that timeframe.

Brian Raftopoulos of Zimbabwe's independent Solidarity Peace Trust says this may be because the parties agreed in talks last year to a number of items on the current agenda, including a constitution.

"Well I think its true that a lot of areas were agreed last year during the mediation, there was quite a long agenda which was set up in about early May of last year, and by the end of last year, beginning of [this] year, they had actually agreed on a constitution, as well as a number of other reforms," he said.

Even so, the delegates have much to accomplish, including the reform of government. Raftopoulos says that while the mediator, Mr. Mbeki, is eager to move the process along as quickly as possible, 14 days may be too ambitious.

"I think what President Mbeki is trying, is to set a very strict time limit in order to push the negotiations on and to give people a sense of the urgency of it, but clearly the negotiations may well go beyond the two weeks, because of the huge obstacles ahead, especially in terms of the security apparatus, the type of government that will be formed, the role of president Mugabe, which are key and hugely problematic issues," said Raftopoulos.

While not specifically incorporated in the agenda for these talks, the security forces, and particularly the Joint Operations Command, will require close attention from the delegates. The Joint Operations Command is run by a senior party official, the various military commanders, the chiefs of police and prisons, and the country's senior intelligence official.

Raftopoulos says this group is the power behind Mr. Mugabe.

"The Joint Operation Command has basically been running the country, certainly during this election period. And they have played an enormously destructive role in the violence, in fact coordinating it and orchestrating it," he added. "So their future role obviously requires a reform of their role and certainly a re-look at the security apparatus generally."

Raftopoulos notes that unlike last year, this time pressure to urgently end the crises in Zimbabwe is also coming from Africa.

"I think there is a lot of pressure now on ZANU-PF in particular, President Mbeki, and indeed on the MDC, for some kind of settlement. Pressure from SADC, from the African Union, from the United Nations, from the international community," he said.

This time too, the mediator, President Mbeki has what he has called a "reference group" - senior officials from the United Nations, the African Union and the Southern Africa Development Community who will be privy to the talks. This will provide international oversight of any agreements, and help protect the integrity of the process.

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