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Mugabe Admits Need for Dialogue with Opposition - 2003-12-19

South African President Thabo Mbeki's visit to Zimbabwe Thursday has sparked hope that long-delayed talks between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition may finally take place. After his meeting with the South African leader, President Robert Mugabe said publicly for the first time that dialogue with the opposition was needed.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change is not optimistic that talks with the ruling party will take place anytime soon. But MDC party insiders say Secretary-General Welshman Ncube and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa may meet later this month to discuss an agenda for full-scale negotiations.

Both men are lawyers and met earlier this year to discuss constitutional issues. The discussions produced no visible results.

Three Zimbabwean churchmen visited Mr. Mbeki in South Africa ahead of his Zimbabwe visit to brief him on the deepening political and economic crisis, and to urge him to persuade Mr. Mugabe to sit down and talk with the opposition.

Mr. Mbeki made no public comment about his three-hour meeting with Mr. Mugabe. But well-placed political insiders, who have asked not to be named, say that Mr. Mbeki told his Zimbabwean counterpart that the present deteriorating economic and political situation was not sustainable.

According to sources in Zimbabwe, Mr. Mbeki said that, for now, he did not want South Arica to supervise any negotiations between the two parties.

South Africa last year sponsored talks between Zimbabwe's ruling party and the opposition, but the talks collapsed when ZANU-PF walked out in dispute over the agenda.

The secretary-general of the opposition MDC, Welshman Ncube, said it remains to be seen whether the Zimbabwe-South Africa summit will bring Mr. Mugabe to the negotiating table. The state-controlled media, which usually reflect government thinking, reported government talks with the opposition were under discussion.