Intense negotiations on Zimbabwe under way at SADC summit

Other News Materials 9 November 2008 17:12 (UTC +04:00)

Zimbabwe's political leaders were meeting with their southern African counterparts in Johannesburg Sunday for talks aimed at pulling the country's historic power-sharing agreement back from the brink of collapse, dpa reported.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai are attending the extraordinary summit of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which was called to pressure the two men into forming a unity government.

Opening the summit South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said it was "disappointing" that, two months after agreeing to share power, Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the MDC could still not agree on its make-up and called on the leaders to show "political maturity."

The conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is also on the agenda of the meeting, which five heads of state, including Congolese President Joseph Kabila, and senior officials from other SADC members are attending.

Motlanthe, whose country holds the rotating SADC chair, backed calls for an immediate ceasefire to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance to refugees displaced by the fighting and urged the parties to the conflict to pursue a political solution.

Motlanthe also lamented the limited powers of the overstretched UN peacekeeping force in Congo, MONUC.

"Their current mandate limits their ability to be real peacemakers," he said.

Sunday's summit is seen as the last chance to save Zimbabwe's September 15 power-sharing agreement from collapse.

According to the terms of the deal, Mugabe remains president and Tsvangirai becomes prime minister of a unity government of 31 ministries but the two disagree on which party should get which portfolio.

A mini-SADC summit in Harare last month failed to end the deadlock.

South Africa had warned it would take a "tough stance" this weekend, amid signs of growing Zimbabwe fatigue among SADC members.

Earlier this week, former Namibian president and Mugabe confidant Sam Nujoma met with the elderly leader in Harare to try to convince him to relax his hardline stance in the talks, diplomatic and MDC sources said. It was not possible to verify the outcome of the meeting.

The MDC has accused Mugabe and his party of trying to hold onto all the important ministries. Home affairs, which controls police and the electoral process, is particularly important to the opposition.

The MDC has agreed to let Zanu-PF retain defence in return for home affairs, but Zanu-PF has been insisting on retaining it.

The MDC is also demanding control of the justice, foreign affairs and local government ministries. The party is said to have won finance.

In the run-up to Sunday's summit, the two parties continued blaming each other for the impasse and making noises about pulling out of the deal.

Observers say a power-sharing government is the only way of ending Zimbabwe's nearly decade-long economic slide, which has intensified sharply in recent months.

"The political leadership of Zimbabwe owe it to the people of Zimbabwe and the region to show political maturity by putting the interest of Zimbabwe first," Motlanthe said.

Some 3 million people in the once model African economy now require food aid and inflation is running over 200 million per cent.