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Region Meets to Save Zimbabwe Power Sharing Agreement

Southern African leaders are meeting in Johannesburg Sunday in an effort to rescue Zimbabwe's two month old power sharing agreement which is close to a collapse. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA that the key to a resolution is agreement on which cabinet posts will be held by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, and which by Prime-Minister Designate Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change. Zimbabwe's opposition MDC party has rejected a proposal to share control of the home affairs ministry with the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe.

Mr. Tsvangirai is expected to tell the leaders of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) that the division of cabinet portfolios, as envisioned by Mr. Mugabe in a power-sharing government, carries responsibilities but little power for his Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr. Mugabe is likely to tell SADC leaders that Mr. Tsvangirai is training insurgents in Botswana using British instructors. Both the Botswana government and Mr. Tsvangirai have dismissed the allegations as nonsense.

Even so, Mr. Mugabe contends that he therefore must control key cabinet portfolios, including home affairs which controls the police and immigration and maintains the list of voters which has often been at the center of election challenges. Home affairs, under ZANU-PF, has refused Mr. Tsvangirai a passport for nearly six months.

Mr. Mugabe also wants to retain control of all security and justice ministries.

Mr. Tsvangirai is expected to devote much of his presentation to the ever deepening humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and the fact that the Zimbabwe dollar has, to all intents and purposes, lost any meaningful value.

Most of the population cannot access foreign currency and as of Friday, inflation was at a world breaking figure trading at up to Z$2.3 billion to US$1. Riot police were deployed at Harare banks Saturday as crowds gathered to withdraw salaries.

Mr. Tsvangirai will also tell the summit that school children have lost a full year of education and that humanitarian agencies are struggling to get out and feed millions of people because of state imposed obstacles. And, he will report that most of the main hospitals are not accepting patients for treatment. Scores of people have died of cholera in recent weeks.

In addition to an equitable allocation of ministries, the MDC says it also wants fair distribution of the 10 governor positions, all already claimed by Mr. Mugabe, and a fair share of diplomatic postings and top civil service jobs, all currently staffed by members of ZANU-PF.

The MDC has a narrow majority in parliament and Mr. Tsvangirai proved, in the March 29 presidential election, that he is significantly more popular than Mr. Mugabe, who at nearly 85 has been in power since independence in 1980.

The smaller MDC faction headed by Arthur Mutambara, who is the third signatory to the September 15 agreement to establish a power sharing government, is backing Mr. Tsvangirai for sole control of home affairs.

At last month's failed talks Mr. Mutambara, in an attempt to unlock an impasse, tabled a proposal that the portfolio be rotated between ZANU-PF and MDC, but insisted that Mr. Tsvangirai lead the ministry for the first six months.

A political source close to the negotiations, who did not want to be identified, said he believed SADC would strive for consensus at Sunday's meeting. South Africa, which chairs SADC, has said this week that time is running out in the face of Zimbabwe's deteriorating humanitarian situation.

South Africa has earmarked US$30 million to help jump start food production, if an inclusive government is formed. Agriculturalists in Zimbabwe say it is already too late to purchase farming inputs for summer crops.

Botswana, the strongest regional critic of ZANU-PF, has called for fresh, internationally supervised presidential elections if the summit does not find a deal.

Regional leaders will also turn their minds to the war in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Eight years ago two SADC member states, a then much richer Zimbabwe and Angola were among five African countries which had armies participating in the conflict.