Morgan Tsvangirai, the founding president of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, has put on hold a preliminary agreement that would pave the way for formal talks with President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.
Morgan Tsvangirai is holding out for the appointment of a second mediator appointed by the African Union to work alongside South African President Thabo Mbeki who is acting as mediator during formal negotiations with Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF. Mr. Mbeki was last year mandated by the Southern African Development Community to mediate talks between the MDC and ZANU-PF.
An African diplomat close to the preparatory talks told VOA that Tsvangirai believes that the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, promised to appoint a second mediator. He says Tsvangirai expects this appointment to be announced following a meeting Friday between Ping and Mr. Mbeki in Pretoria.
But the African diplomat tells VOA that the African Union has made no such commitment, that the decision of the AU summit last month to endorse the mediation of Mr.. Mbeki as mandated by the Southern Africa Development Community, still stands.
The preparatory talks are expected to produce a preliminary agreement which will govern formal negotiations between both factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and ZANU-PF.
In addition the agreement is expected to include, at Tsvangirai's request, an interim commitment on the cessation of violence during formal talks. Despite the fact that violent attacks against opposition supporters have decreased, they still occur. Just this week a large funeral was held for an MDC driver who was brutally tortured before being killed.
When formal talks get under way they are likely to focus on the establishment of a transitional Government of National Unity and the positions in that government of opposition leaders, including Morgan Tsvangirai.
The MDC holds the view that Tsvangirai should head any transitional government, while President Mugabe wants the MDC to recognize his re-election as president of Zimbabwe in a controversial election last month which was boycotted by the MDC.
Analysts say that any formal agreements will have to win the support of the security establishment in Zimbabwe, which is widely believed to be the power behind Mr. Mugabe.
Independent analyst Chris Maroleng tells VOA the mediator will have to find a way to reassure this group that they will not be held accountable for their actions by a future transitional government.
"I believe it is the insecurity that is felt by these elements in the state security apparatus that has created a behavior in them which makes them active spoilers when faced with the prospects of change. Because they might feel that the cost involved in a transition would result in a loss of status, a loss of access, and indeed possible prosecution if a transition is to occur," said Maroleng.
It is possible that if, following his meeting with Mr. Mbeki, the African Union's Jean Ping is able to reassure Morgan Tsvangirai that Mr. Mbeki can manage the mediaiton on his own, the signing of the preliminary agreement could take place within days. If so, formal talks may get under way as early as next week.