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Southern African Leaders Prepare for Zimbabwe Crisis Summit

Southern African leaders are to hold a summit in South Africa Monday aimed at reviving deadlocked negotiations over a unity government in Zimbabwe. But parties to the talks are not optimistic saying positions have hardened since a power-sharing agreement was signed four months ago.

Zimbabwean leaders continue to express hope that they will reach an agreement and negotiations continue behind the scenes since the Zimbabwe crisis talks ended in a deadlock Monday in Harare.

Yet President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF and Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change say they will not compromise further when Southern African leaders meet in Pretoria Monday to try to break the deadlock.

A Professor at England's Kent University, Alex Magaisa, says Zimbabweans are losing hope that the dispute can be resolved by the Southern African Development Community.

"Zimbabwe has reached a cul-de sac [dead end] with SADC," said Magaisa. "It's not going to do anything new. I don't think the MDC can expect anything positive that can come out of SADC as far as its interests are concerned. What is there on the table is what is there. I don't think it's going to change."

A power-sharing agreement signed last year stalled after the MDC protested that the Mugabe government was refusing to share key ministries and senior government posts. The MDC also demanded the release of political prisoners detained in recent months.

SADC mediators have proposed that Mr. Tsvangirai join Mr. Mugabe in a unity government and they work out the remaining differences later.

The MDC says Mr. Mugabe has already violated parts of the agreement and fears that he will continue to do so. Mr. Mugabe has said he would form a government alone if necessary.

Magaisa says the MDC has few viable options other than to seek change from within the government.

"What needs to be done is for MDC to very carefully measure the cost and benefits of whatever course of action it may take," said Magaisa. "If they decide to stay out of government they have to ask themselves what is it that they can do which they haven't done in the past 10 years in order to win power."

A professor at the University of Johannesburg, Adam Habib, says military intervention is not an option and sanctions hurt primarily poor people rather than the wealthy political elite.

He says the only realistic option is a negotiated solution.

"The dilemma with political negotiations is how do you get leverage over Mugabe and even Tsvangirai for that matter? How do you as a group of mediators get the belligerent parties to start dealing in good faith with each other and to recognize the travesty that is befalling the Zimbabwean people," said Habib.

He says SADC is divided internally between members who want to be tough on the parties and those who favor quiet diplomacy. He says SADC can succeed only if it unites behind a plan that is supported by all the parties and includes certain guarantees.

"It does mean making guarantees for Zimbabwe's military leaders and even Mugabe himself," said Habib. "And it does mean agreeing on what are the punitive measures on parties if they don't agree to abide by such a settlement."

Habib says proposals to take the matter to larger bodies like the African Union or the United Nations will only complicate and prolong the process. As a result, SADC is best suited to seek a solution.

"SADC has no option because the consequences are beginning to regionalize," he said. "What you're beginning to see is simply not only migrations across borders now, but you're seeing a cholera epidemic. And the cholera epidemic is beginning to impact a range of surrounding countries."

His remarks came as the World Health Organization Friday announced that cholera, an easily preventable disease, has now affected more than 50,000 people in Zimbabwe and has killed more than 2,700.

Neighboring countries are reporting thousands of cholera cases and several dozen deaths within their borders.

In addition, an estimated three million Zimbabweans have fled to neighboring countries straining social and humanitarian services there. South Africa says the number of refugees crossing its border each day has more than doubled in recent months.