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US Voices Skepticism On South African-Mediated Zimbabwe Crisis Talks

Officials of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change concluded a first round of face-to-face talks in Pretoria, South Africa, on Monday, as a senior US official voiced skepticism about the process.

Sources close to the talks told VOA that a second round of talks is likely to open in July based on an agenda that was hammered out Monday.

The MDC seeks electoral reform and a revision of the Zimbabwean constitution. The ruling party among other demands wants Western sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle to be lifted, and the cessation of news broadcasts into the country by VOA's Studio 7 and London-based Shortwave Radio Africa.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, mediating the crisis on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, is present a progress report to his regional peers at the end of this month and in July will brief an African Union summit in Ghana.

But even as the first round of talks concluded, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, also in Pretoria, said she was disappointed SADC was pressing ahead with a negotiation process that has failed in the past.

Frazer said regional leaders should have sent a clear message to Mugabe at their summit in March instead of backing him in a communique that asserted Zimbabwean elections had been free and fair and urged that Western sanctions be lifted.

She said Zimbabwe’s crisis was hurting economic growth across the region.

Researcher Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that some of ZANU-PF’s demands evinced a lack of seriousness on Harare's part.

Zimbabwean civic groups, voiced disquiet at what they described as their exclusion from the talks, demanding a place at the table. A position paper was presented to the South African ambassador in Harare recently with a copy sent to SADC officials.

But Save Zimbabwe Campaign spokesman Raymond Motsi told reporter Patience Rusere that it is possible, subject to further discussion, that Zimbabwe civil society will have to let the two MDC factions go it alone in the crisis talks.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...