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Zimbabwe Talks Move Toward Compromise


Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has made some compromises over distribution of cabinet portfolios according to the state controlled and owned Herald newspaper Thursday. Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare a partial agreement is expected Thursday after two full days of intense and long sessions of negotiations mediated by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

At stake for prime minister designate Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change party, is the ability to run a new government and deliver relief urgently to the people of Zimbabwe.

He signed up to a power sharing agreement last month but it broke down at the weekend when Mr. Mugabe assigned all the security ministries to his ZANU-PF party. ZANU-PF now sits on the opposition benches in parliament following the narrow MDC victory in the March elections.

Tsvangirai has let it be known that he is deeply concerned about the sudden and dramatic upsurge in hunger nationwide, particularly in the south of Zimbabwe.

Several Legislators from the south, in Harare for parliament, said children under five are beginning to die in their rural areas. One legislator said he believes this is the worst food insecurity in living memory in the Matabeleland North province.

Senator David Coltart said Wednesday he is watching people shrivel in front of his eyes in his district in second city Bulawayo.

Food agencies have not yet begun any meaningful distribution of emergency feeding to many areas under threat of mass starvation, as they were banned in June by the government for three critical months from making preparations for emergency feeding. They are now trying to catch up but hunger stalks most of the population which goes to bed hungry at night.

The pressure therefore is also on Tsvangirai to find a way through the talks to be able to form a government.

The dispute over ministries narrowed in the last day to the crucial ministries of finance and home affairs.

The finance ministry would allow Tsvangirai to control the aid he hopes the west will provide to rebuild the social
welfare ministries he will control.

Home affairs, controls the police. However Mr. Mugabe, with his vast portfolio of powers embedded in the executive presidency, can appoint the commissioner of police even if Tsvangirai has some power over the every day affairs of the large police force.

Several policemen in Harare in bank queues in the last few days said they were hungry, were not paid enough, and did not want to be controlled by Mr. Mugabe.

However the senior ranks of the police, such as those in the army and intelligence services, have been given white owned farms by Mr. Mugabe.

The unlocking of the deadlock declared by Tsvanirai last week will attract both praise and criticism from Zimbabweans. Many of the poor in the streets say they are desperate for a change, any change.

Others say he would be settling for an inferior deal in which he would be providing respectability in the international arena for Mr Mugabe who will continue to wield the real power.

No one , however, seems to have suggestions of any alternative to an attempt at a government of national unity.