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South African Mediators on Zimbabwe Complete First Round of Talks

  • Peta Thornycroft

President Jacob Zuma's three-person team of mediators meet with top players in Zimbabwe's power-sharing government

South African President Jacob Zuma's three-person team of mediators has completed a heavy schedule of closed-door meetings with top players in Zimbabwe's power-sharing government. The mediators were sent to Zimbabwe to try to ease tensions and resolve outstanding issues of the 14-month-old political agreement that gave birth to the inclusive unity government in February.

The South African team headed by former home affairs minister Charles Ngakula, met several people involved in or concerned with the past 10 years of political crisis in Zimbabwe.

A source close to the mediators said the closed-door meetings, beginning with President Robert Mugabe, went well.

On the first full day of meetings Monday, the pro-ZANU-PF Herald daily newspaper carried a report saying Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai had admitted he called for so-called U.S. and European Union sanctions against Zimbabwe. Mr. Tsvangirai has said repeatedly he did not call for any sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mugabe cites the sanctions as the main cause behind Zimbabwe's economic collapse and they are on his list of unresolved issues of the political agreement. ZANU-PF wants Mr. Tsvangirai to campaign for the restrictions to be lifted.

The restrictions on Zimbabwe mostly limit international travel for Mr. Mugabe, 200 other ZANU-PF officials and a few of their companies. The U.S. and EU restrictions do not extend to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The World Bank and the IMF say they cut off assistance to Zimbabwe in 1999 because it had not serviced its debt to either organization.

South African President Jacob Zuma's team is trying to establish a framework for ZANU-PF and the MDC to negotiate the outstanding issues from the political agreement. A December 6 deadline was set by the Southern African Development Community.

Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF is also preparing for its congress that takes place every five years to appoint a new party leadership.

All ZANU-PF's provinces have agreed Mr. Mugabe should remain as party president, many say the 85-year-old leader should remain party president for the rest of his life.