Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has started preparations to form a government by terminating employment of a dozen ministers from his ZANU-PF party to clear the way for a new Cabinet, state media said on Saturday. There is no indication yet whether the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change Morgan Tsvangirai, who has received a letter confirming his appointment as prime minister, will take up his post and move into a government of national unity.

The firing of nine ministers and three deputy ministers who lost their seats in March parliamentary polls is a sign, according to presidential spokesman George Charamba, that Mr. Mugabe is preparing the way to form a government.

The state controlled Herald newspaper on Saturday quoted him saying that the termination letters indicated that President Mugabe was starting to make preparations for a new administration "as per the mandate by all three parties to the dialogue."

Mr. Mugabe, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, who heads a small faction of the MDC, signed a power-sharing pact on Sept. 15 but it has been held up by a row over Cabinet posts.

Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC and ZANU-PF have the same number of seats in parliament, while ZANU-PF controls the senate. Mr. Mutambara has 10 seats and his member are likely to vote with Mr. Tsvangirai's legislators.

Welshman Ncube, secretary-general for the Mutambara faction of the MDC said Saturday he believes that the termination of the ZANU-PF minister's employment was a formality.

He said he didn't believe Mr. Mugabe would form a government without exhausting all processes put in place by the Southern African Development Community to oversee formation of a unity government. He predicted the next step would be to hold a meeting among all three leaders.

A constitutional amendment to allow for a power-sharing government will go into effect on January 15 provided the amendment gets a two-thirds majority in parliament. Those whose contract terminated should have left the Cabinet late August when the new parliament was sworn in, Ncube said.

Under the deal, Mr. Mugabe would remain president, but with less powers than before. Mr. Tsvangirai would become prime minister in day-to-day control of the government. But the MDC says a new government cannot be formed because a SADC summit resolved that the police should be co-chaired by ZANU-PF and the MDC. During negotiations ZANU-PF won control of the army and secret service. Without home affairs, the MDC said  it would be a junior partner. Mr. Tsvangirai won control of all key service delivery ministries.

The MDC is holding out for control of the Home Affairs Ministry - saying this is necessary to stop police violence against opposition supporters - and has rejected a resolution by SADC to split control of the ministry.

Mr. Tsvangirai has been out of Zimbabwe for weeks, in exile in Botswana. He previously said he couldn't return home because authorities hadn't given him a new passport but he received a new one before Christmas.

Mr. Tsvangirai has also demanded the release of opposition supporters and human rights activists snatched from their homes in recent weeks and currently in detention.

These include Zimbabwe Peace Project leader Jestina Mukoko, who was abducted from her home early December. She and 31 others are due to appear before a magistrates' court on Monday accused of trying to topple Mugabe. The opposition says the charges are trumped-up.