Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday signed a deal laying down the framework for formal talks on forming a power-sharing government to end a deep political crisis.
It was the first meeting in 10 years between the two rivals, who are widely believed to detest each other. They sat at a conference table separated by South African President Thabo Mbeki who mediated the deal.
The preliminary agreement was signed in Harare’s Rainbow Towers Hotel after weeks of deadlock since Mugabe was re-elected on June 27 in a widely condemned poll boycotted by Tsvangirai because of violence against his supporters.
Mbeki said the agreement committed both sides to an intense process to try to complete substantive negotiations as quickly as possible. “All parties recognise the urgency,” he said.
A subdued Mugabe said after the signing that the agreement was “to chart a new way of political interaction,” while Tsvangirai called the ceremony “a very historic occasion”.
Officials from both sides said the framework agreement sets a two-week deadline for the government and two factions of the opposition MDC to discuss key issues including a unity government and how to hold new elections.
A government of national unity has been pushed as a solution to the crisis by the African Union and the regional body SADC, both deeply concerned by Zimbabwe’s political violence and an economic crisis that has flooded neighbouring states with millions of refugees.
Tsvangirai’s MDC and Mugabe’s Zanu-PF are also committed under the agreement to ease political tension within the two-week deadline, officials said. Mugabe and Tsvangirai have been under heavy world and African pressure to enter negotiations, which are expected to be extremely tough.
They have both demanded to be recognised as Zimbabwe’s rightful president. Mugabe called for an end to Western sanctions against him and his ruling circle and said there was no need for intervention from Europe in Zimbabwe.
He has frequently called Tsvangirai a puppet of former colonial ruler Britain.
Zimbabwe’s economic collapse under Mugabe’s 28-year rule has plunged the once prosperous country into inflation of over 2 million percent as well as crippling food and fuel shortages.
Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition faction, had previously refused to sign even a framework deal unless government militias stop violence he says has killed at least 120 of his supporters. He also demanded that Mugabe recognise his victory in the first round of the presidential poll on March 29.
The MDC leader pulled out of the run-off because of the heavy violence between the two rounds. Mugabe, 84, blames the opposition for the bloodshed.
The turning point in ending the deadlock appeared to be a meeting last Friday between Mbeki, the African Union’s top permanent official, Jean Ping, and UN envoy Haile Menkerios.
Mbeki, who has up to now negotiated alone as the designated regional mediator, agreed to expand the mediation process to include the African Union, United Nations and officials from SADC in a “reference group”.
Mbeki is expected to liaise with the group although it will not be directly involved in negotiations. Expansion of the mediation beyond Mbeki has been a key demand of Tsvangirai, who has strongly criticised the South African president, accusing him of favouring Mugabe.
Western powers, which have unsuccessfully tried to push targeted sanctions against Mugabe’s circle and an arms embargo through the United Nations, also called for expanded mediation.
“Tsvangirai has so far done well to press for and win a role for both the AU and the UN in the mediation process, but he has to remain alert all the way because he is dealing with a foxy man – Mugabe,” said Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.
Mike Davies, analyst, Eurasia Group, said, “This represents a small step in terms of the overall picture of moving towards negotiations.
We would still see that there are wide differences between the positions of the (opposition) MDC and (ruling) Zanu-PF that will have to be overcome if there is to be any negotiated solution to the crisis.
Some of the differences are so entrenched it is difficult to see how they could be resolved quickly.”
Mugabe said there was an agreement between his ruling party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change on the need to amend the country’s constitution.
“Yesterday we agreed, Zanu-PF and the two MDCs, that our constitution as it is should be amended variously,” said Mugabe. – Nampa-Reuters-AFP