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SADC to Support More Mediation in Zimbabwe Crisis

Regional heads of state are expected to encourage South African President Thabo Mbeki to continue his efforts to facilitate negotiations between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Peta Thornycroft for VOA reports that the Southern African Development Community's summit in Zambia also launched its first peacekeeping standby force.

President Thabo Mbeki will continue to facilitate negotiations between the ruling ZANU-PF and the MDC, according to South African foreign affairs minister Nkosozana Zuma.

In response to a question from South Africa's independent newspapers on whether there would be further negotiations, minister Zuma replied with one word, "Sure."

President Mbeki was appointed in March by SADC to facilitate negotiations between Zimbabwe's two main political parties ahead of national elections next March.

President Mbeki briefed a three-nation ministerial committee of SADC on the progress so far.

While the details of his report were not made public by the official end of the summit, some broad outlines on the mediation have emerged.

Negotiations have focused on a new constitution, and there is a deadline at the end of next month for resolving outstanding areas of disagreement.

This may mean, political sources say, that if agreement is reached between ZANU-PF and MDC, national elections may be delayed by a few months as new provisions are put into place.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe intends to be the ZANU-PF candidate for president in the elections due next March. He wants parliamentary elections to be held at the same time.

SADC prepared a comprehensive report on Zimbabwe's collapsed economy and humanitarian crisis ahead of the Lusaka summit, but SADC says its reconstruction plan depends on an improved political climate.

The food situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, especially in the south where there were few crops last summer season.

MDC legislator from Zimbabwe's second largest city Bulawayo, David Coltart, said there was no food available at any supermarket Friday apart from some vegetables.

On Wednesday, two people were killed and several more were seriously injured in Bulawayo during a stampede by desperate shoppers who had been lining up for sugar since dawn.

At the summit, the southern African heads of state launched a new regional standby force for use in peacekeeping throughout the sub-continent. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said that the troops would be part of a larger African force, ready for "rapid deployment" in peacekeeping, humanitarian and natural disaster-relief efforts throughout Africa.