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2 New Chairmen to Head Key Zimbabwe Commissions

Two widely respected Zimbabaweans have been appointed to head up the new human-rights commission and the electoral commission. The appointment of the two men has taken many months and hard negotiations and represents a small breakthrough in the political paralysis that has gripped Zimbabwe.

An important part of the September 2008 political agreement that gave birth to Zimbabwe's unity government a year ago was a new leader for the electoral commission and the establishment of a human-rights commission. The government now says it has decided on chairmen for the two commissions.

The new chair of the electoral commission is Judge Simpson Mtambanengwe, a Zimbabwean who joined Namibia's courts 1994. He became acting chief justice and was chair of the electoral commission in Windhoek.

He replaces President Robert Mugabe's close confidante, Judge George Chiweshe who presided over disputed elections in recent years, including 2008 when he delayed results of the presidential poll for five weeks.

Movement for Democratic Change Leader Morgan Tsvangirai easily beat Mr. Mugabe in the first round of the poll, but an orgy of political violence followed and Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the run off. Negotiations between the men's parties ultimately led to a political agreement and an inclusive government.

Professor Reg Austin is the first chairman of the new Human Rights Commission. He was legal advisor to nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo at negotiations in London in 1979 that led to Zimbabwe's independence the next year.

He was also dean of the University of Zimbabwe law department after independence and since than has worked for the United Nations on some of the toughest elections in the world.

Both men were chosen after months of heated and sometimes acrimonious negotiations between Mr. Mugabe's Zanu PF and Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC. Zimbabwe human-rights lawyer Derek Matyszak said the appointments represent some hope in an otherwise politically paralyzed unity government.

To try to unblock the political system, three mediators appointed in December by South African President Jacob Zuma are due in Harare to meet with the principals of the three political parties that signed the unity government agreement in September 2008.