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Zimbabwe Talks Resume on Fringes of SADC Summit

Talks between Zimbabwe's political parties will resume in South Africa on the sidelines of the Southern Africa Development Community summit which formally opens Saturday. Meanwhile, Botswana president Ian Khama has withdrawn from the summit in protest at the presence of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

A source close to the tripartite talks aimed at ending Zimbabwe's political crisis told VOA the talks between the parties will resume on the fringes of the SADC summit.

It is why we are here," he said.

Earlier this week three marathon sessions failed to produce a final agreement between President Robert Mugabe and the leaders of the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutumbara.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who was last year mandated by SADC to mediate the talks, is assuming the chairmanship of the organization this weekend. He had been hoping to conclude the talks successfully prior to the summit.

In addition to Mr. Mugabe, SADC has also invited Mutambara and Tsvangirai to attend this weekend's meeting. Tsvangirai said the status of the talks will be discussed by the regional leaders.

"I suppose President Mbeki will report to SADC, and we, because there is this deadlock, I think that we also have to make an input," he said.

One of the reasons Mr. Mbeki was hoping to have an agreement before the summit was to prevent discord around the event itself. Speaking at the opening of the ministerial meeting Thursday South Africa's Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma urged delegates not to allow the Zimbabwean crisis to cause differences among member countries.

"We should not allow any situation, no matter how difficult, to threaten that unity and cohesion," she said.

Despite Dlamini-Zuma's urging however, Botswana announced Friday that President Ian Khama would not attend the summit in protest over Mr. Mugabe's presence. In a statement, the country's foreign ministry said that Botswana does not accept the result in Zimbabwe's presidential run-off election in June because the election violated the core principles of SADC, the African Union and the United Nations.

South Africa's largest trade union federation, the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions and 14 other civil society organizations will protest at the summit Saturday against the presence of Mr. Mugabe and Swazi King Mswati III, who according to Swaziland's constitution, has the right to overrule all laws and rules.