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Southern African Regional Leaders to Examine Road Map to Zimbabwe Polls

Tensions within the Harare government surged this week when state security agents insisted on conducting body searches of Deputy Prime Ministers Arthur Mutambara and Thokozane Khupe before a Cabinet meeting

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community meeting on Friday in Gaborone will discuss a road map to the next elections in Zimbabwe where the unity government in place since 2009 seems to be unraveling, leading to talk of a ballot next year.

An aide to SADC-appointed mediator President Jacob Zuma of South Africa confirmed to VOA that the sequence of events leading up to new elections - presumably completion of the constitutional revision process already behind schedule - will top the agenda when the SADC troika on politics, defense and security meets in the Botswanan capital.

That meeting will take place on the sidelines of a gathering of 15 regional leaders called for the inauguration of the Southern African organization's new headquarters.

Harare political sources said temperatures within the government hit the boiling point this week when state security agents insisted on conducting body searches of Deputy Prime Ministers Arthur Mutambara and Thokozane Khupe before they were allowed to attend a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Mutambara, head of one formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, is one of three principals in the Harare unity government.

The Movement for Democratic Change condemned the move as a humilitating form or harassment and called for an investigation into the incident.

Sources in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF said such searches were necessary to stop ministers from secretly taping cabinet discussions of sensitive topics.

Civil society organizations including the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and local branch of Transparency International said civil liberties are coming under pressure as ZANU-PF gears up for the elections Mr. Mugabe has called for by mid-2011.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the larger MDC formation, has welcomed the prospect of elections - but only if they can be free, fair and nonviolent.

SADC sources said regional leaders are divided on the future of the Harare government with some urging it to continue for three more years and others saying it should come to an end in February, at the end of the two-year term envisioned at its inception.

Lindiwe Zulu, a foreign policy advisor to Mr. Zuma, said the Zimbabwe election roadmap will be taken uip in Gaborone. But spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC formation said outstanding power sharing issues - mainly concerning appointments to senior government posts - should be resolved before the road map is discussed.

Mutambara MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube said his party in Gaborone will express concern at the failure of ZANU-PF and the other MDC formation to respect the Global Political Agreement for power sharing signed by the three parties in 2008.

Ncube told VOA reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga that he hopes the SADC leaders will tell ZANU-PF and the Tsvangirai MDC to hold up their ends of the power-sharing deal.

Senior ZANU-PF officials were said to be in a meeting and unavailable to comment.

Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC formation said Thursday that he had left for Gaborone. It released a statement insisting on "full implementation of the GPA with specific timelines for action; the realisation of a total transitional reform agenda; the restoration of a constitutional and civil order in national institutions" and an end to what it described as ZANU-PF's "war psychosis" with alleged militarization of rural villages ahead of the next elections.

The MDC statement denounced any move to "short-change" the reform process meant to take place under power sharing and to "drag us backwards into our dark past."

Chairman Tinoziva Bere of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a civic organization, said he welcomed the SADC discussion of an election road map, but was skeptical.