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Zimbabwe Opposition to Sign Agreement for Talks Today

Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with the ruling ZANU-PF party ahead of the start of another round of peace talks today. The memorandum of understanding aims at setting guidelines on substantive consultation between President Robert Mugabe's party and the opposition. This comes after South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, who is mandated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to mediate between the two opposing parties proposed a team from SADC and the United Nations to help with the mediation efforts.

Some Zimbabweans have reportedly expressed optimism about a new round of peace talks aimed at resolving the ongoing political and economic crisis. Glen Mpani is the regional coordinator for the transitional justice program of the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from Johannesburg that the opposition MDC should approach the talks with cautious optimism.

"The signing of the memorandum of understanding or a framework in which the talks can be held between the MDC political party and the ruling party ZANU-PF is a step in the right direction in terms of ensuring that at least we can be able to start a process of negotiation. But I think we should be cautious about this process because it is only a start on a journey of many issues where both political parties are not in agreement. It is more or less like the negotiation between north and south because the issues that are going are so core and central. So, it is exciting, but there should be a cautious optimism in the way we look at this negotiation," Mpani noted.

He said the opposition was reasonable in demanding a broader mediation effort in the next round of peace talks.

"I think they (opposition) are justified, and I think it is a diplomatic triumph for the MDC because one of the core issues that they were raising was the issue of broadening the mediation. That was the core and central in terms of ensuring that one, there is an impartial process that is acceptable to both parties," he said.

Mpani said with the premise of opposing sides both agreeing to the framework of the talks, it shows a sign of good things to come.

"A process that is agreed by all parties will ultimately lead to some process or an outcome that is generally acceptable. The previous arrangement, where a mediation was being foisted on the MDC, was not in the interest of coming up with a solution for Zimbabwe. So I think this process way from the onset, both parties agree on the framework and the mediation structure will in itself assist in creating confidence and ensuring that at least they come up with a position that is conducive for all political parties on the table," Mpani pointed out.

Meanwhile, President Robert Mugabe has reportedly threatened to transfer ownership of all foreign-owned firms that support Western sanctions against his administration and the entire leadership of the ruling ZANU-PF party to locals and investors from "friendly" countries.

Mpani described President Mugabe's government as unfortunate.

"Such comments at this point in time are quite regrettable. But they needed to be treated with the seriousness it deserves because I think ZANU-PF government has managed to carry through their word each and every statement that they say, based on the land issue. If you look at the mining issue and if you also look at the effect of cutting prices, they are serious comments. But if I were in the ZANU-PF, I would dissuade them from taking that approach because it would erode the level of confidence, particularly in these current negotiations," Mpani noted.