Southern African leaders have gathered for a summit in South Africa in an effort to restore a stalled power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe. The government of President Robert Mugabe says he intends to form a government unilaterally if the talks fail.
Heads-of-state and representatives from 15 members of the Southern African Development Community met in Pretoria for what some said could be SADC's last effort to negotiate a power-sharing accord and unity government in Zimbabwe.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe opened the meeting with remarks deploring conditions in Zimbabwe and saying it is time to implement the power-sharing accord.
"We cannot continue talking and talking and talking without concretely proceeding to the implementation stage," said Mr. Motlanthe. "So this extraordinary summit is meant to bring about the final decision on this matter so that we can all expend our energies focusing on challenges arising from the implementation."
Zimbabwe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told South African public radio that President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party would form a new government with or without his rival, Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
"Soon after this summit, whether there is an agreement or there is no agreement President Mugabe is going to form a cabinet. He will obviously appoint his 15 Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers for ZANU-PF," he said. "And obviously he will try to leave room for Tsvangirai so that whenever he changes his mind, but it is not for too long, he will then come to join the all-inclusive government."
Under the agreement signed four months ago, Mr. Mugabe would remain as president while Mr. Tsvangirai would be named to the newly created post of prime minister.
The president's ZANU-PF party would receive 15 ministerial portfolios. Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC would receive 13 ministries and a smaller MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara would receive three.
The accord is aimed at ending a political stalemate that followed disputed elections last March. The MDC won a slim majority in parliament and Mr. Tsvangirai received the most votes in the first round of the presidential vote. But Mr. Mugabe won a run-off presidential vote after Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew, citing a campaign of violence against his supporters.
Since the power-sharing agreement was signed, positions have hardened. Mr. Mugabe says he is implementing the SADC proposals, but MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa accused SADC mediators of favoring ZANU-PF.
"There has been a problem of objectivity in terms of the eye of SADC, the way we have raised our issues. There has been a problem of the reception of our message," he said. "We have clearly said the MDC issues are people's issues. Our insistence is that we let those issues be resolved."
Zimbabwe's economy has been reeling from hyper-inflation, 80-percent unemployment and shortages of food and fuel.
In addition a cholera epidemic, which health officials blame largely on the country's deteriorated water, sanitation and health systems has killed more than 2,700 people and is spreading to neighboring countries.
Western nations have imposed, what they call, targeted sanctions on senior officials in the Zimbabwe government because of corruption and human-rights abuses.
The European Union has imposed a visa ban and frozen assets of an additional 26 Zimbabwean officials and 36 companies, bringing to more than 200 the number on its list of targeted sanctions.
The United States has imposed sanctions on about 250 individuals and more than a dozen companies. Australia has imposed sanctions on a similar number of individuals and companies.
The Mugabe government says the sanctions are responsible for the country's economic problems.