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South African President Optimistic About Resolving Continent's Conflicts - 2003-06-13


South African President Thabo Mbeki is predicting that the ruling and opposition parties in Zimbabwe will agree this year on ways to solve the problems facing their country. The South African leader also predicted positive outcomes for several of the continent's most serious conflicts at the Africa meeting of the World Economic Forum in Durban.

Mr. Mbeki told delegates in Durban he expects substantive progress in Zimbabwe by the end of the year.

"We will have an agreement in Zimbabwe between the ruling party and the opposition about all these various challenges that face Zimbabwe," he said.

South Africa and Nigeria have been trying to arrange talks between Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change since the controversial presidential election a year ago.

But their initiatives, which take place behind closed doors, have been blocked by demands by Zanu-PF that the opposition recognize President Robert Mugabe as the legitimate head of state. The opposition, which has launched a court challenge against the election result, insists Mr. Mugabe was elected as a result of massive vote rigging.

Sources close to the initiative for reconciliation talks have told VOA that Mr. Mbeki is currently facilitating negotiations on a face-saving agreement that will allow talks to begin without either side publicly relinquishing its position.

In Friday's speech, Mr. Mbeki also promised that African initiatives will find ways to end other major conflicts on the continent by next year.

"This year we are going to have a transitional government in Congo and peace in DRC," said Thabo Mbeki. "That will happen. This year we are going to have resolution, conclusion of negotiations about the future of the Sudan. That will happen. We will have an agreement in Liberia that will bring together all the various political forces in Liberia into in one government. The peace process in Burundi will continue, leading in about - just over a year now - to the holding of democratic elections in Burundi."

The World Economic Forum meeting in South Africa's eastern port city, Durban, has focused on finding practical ways to kick-start the continent's recovery plan, known as the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD. The forum's Africa director, Haiko Alfeld, told delegates that international businesses are ready to contribute to building economic capacity and skills on the continent.

"We will work with the NEPAD business groups to find the necessary entry points, practical cooperation and leverage opportunities at sectoral, industry and country levels, for business to continue to make available the skills, capacity and resources in support of NEPAD," said Haiko Alfeld.

The South African president said the coming year will see significant progress in ending conflict on the continent and in new large development projects funded by Africans and their international partners. These initiatives he said, will demonstrate that Africans are starting to take charge of their own lives.