Though positions have hardened in Zimbabwe's power-sharing stalemate on word from state media that President Robert Mugabe will launch a new government in February whether or not opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai agrees to participate, political sources said Monday that negotiations between the parties are continuing behind the scenes.
The same sources said the Southern African Development Community is preparing a summit next week in in South Africa to focus on the Zimbabwe political and humanitarian crisis.
A senior SADC official said he had no information on a summit in the making. But the regional organization has been stepping up efforts to bring Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai's MDC formation together in a unity government to tackle the country's problems.
A cholera epidemic reflecting the underlying collapse of water and sanitation systems has claimed 1,600 lives and continues to spread despite international relief, hunger is widespread and hyperinflation has debased the Zimbabwean dollar to such an extent that it is no longer accepted in everyday transactions, accelerating an existing trend of dollarization.
Zimbabwe will also figure prominently on the agenda of an African Union summit to take place Jan. 26 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, location of AU headquarters.
The state-controlled Herald newspaper reported on Monday that Mr. Mugabe, said to have left on "annual leave," would form a new government by the end of February.
But the MDC formation of Tsvangirai, designated prime minister under the power-sharing pact signed Sept. 15,insists that it will only join a government when all political issues have been resolved, including appointments to key cabinet posts.
Such issues could come to a head Jan. 20 when Parliament opens debate on the proposed constitutional amendment needed to create the post of prime minister, among other changes to the basic document needed to bring in the proposed national unity government.
Policy Coordinator Eddie Cross of Tsvangirai's MDC formation told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that a unity government is possible at any time, provided President Mugabe addresses MDC concerns.
Secretary General Welshman Ncube of the rival Arthur Mutambara MDC grouping said forming a government depends solely on passage of the constitutional amendment.
SADC Secretary-General Tomaz Salomao acknowledged the regional bloc is pushing hard for formation of a unity government, but said he knew of no summit in the works.