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Mugabe Ends Talks to Resolve Zimbabwe Crisis

Despite five intense hours of negotiations with South African President Thabo Mbeki, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has rejected several proposals to break the deadlock in talks between his ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. For VOA, Peta Thornycroft reports that Mr. Mugabe's rejection of various compromises effectively brings to an end nearly 10 months of negotiations facilitated by South Africa on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki worked hard to persuade the elderly Zimbabwe leader to honor pledges made in negotiations since April, according to African diplomatic sources.

ZANU-PF negotiators had promised South African facilitators and the MDC that a new constitution would be in place before the next elections and that elections could be delayed so that reforms and new laws could be implemented.

The two parties agreed on a new constitution. But in December, ZANU-PF negotiators and Mr. Mugabe made clear there would be no new constitution before elections and that the polls would be held on time in March.

President Mbeki offered three alternatives to the Zimbabwean leader. Mr. Mugabe rejected all of them including one, which would allow the country to consider the new constitution in a referendum ahead of elections.

Well-placed African diplomatic sources say President Mbeki did not ask the MDC to change its position.

President Mbeki will now report back to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which asked him last March to facilitate the talks to end the crisis.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mbeki is apparently trying to keep the door open for new talks.

"You can't doubt the commitment of everybody," he said. "The Zimbabwe leadership, you can't doubt the commitment of the Zimbabwe leadership to ensure that all of these challenges that face the country are solved."

The talks did however lead to some reforms of existing laws on security, media and elections. Time will tell whether the reforms are significant and if the security services will allow them to be implemented.

The mostly likely date for elections is March 9, according to poll watchers in Harare.

This will be the first time presidential, parliamentary and senate elections will be held simultaneously, although it is not clear if Zimbabwe has the capacity or the infrastructure to hold them.

Analysts say it is not clear if SADC will be able to pressure President Mugabe back to the negotiating table. It is also unclear if SADC or the African Union will want to monitor or even observe Zimbabwe's elections.

Negotiating teams from the divided MDC arrive in Johannesburg Friday to discuss a possible agreement to allow the two factions to run against Mr. Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF without splitting the opposition vote.