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Nigerian Leader Says Agreement Reached for Talks Between Zimbabwe Officials, Opposition - 2004-01-23

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says formal talks are expected between the Zimbabwean government and opposition on ending the country's political stalemate.

President Obasanjo discussed the Zimbabwe crisis during talks in London with Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon. The Nigerian president is currently chairman of the Commonwealth group, made up of 53 countries, most of them former British colonies.

President Obasanjo told a news conference that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, and leaders of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), have agreed to formal talks on their differences.

He did not reveal a date for the talks, but his comments echo similar statements by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Mr. Obasanjo said the Zimbabwean sides had already held exploratory discussions on a new constitution, land reform and the structure of a new government and parliament.

"I believe that when they get together talking formally it should not be too difficult for them to arrive at some agreement on these issues," he said.

Mr. McKinnon said the talks are a prerequisite for ending Zimbabwe's isolation. "If this is beginning to happen now obviously that's a very, very good sign. Ultimately you do want to see evidence of what emerges from those talks.

President Mugabe has pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth. His government was widely criticized following 2002 elections that were condemned as rigged by the MDC and international observers.