SAfrican president cites “substantial” progress in talks to end coalition deadlock in ZimbabweBy Chengetai Zvauya, AP
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Zuma: “substantial” progress in Zimbabwe talks
HARARE, Zimbabwe — South African President Jacob Zuma said Thursday he believes he made great progress in his first trip to Zimbabwe as chief mediator between members of the fragile power-sharing government.
Zuma said in a statement winding up the two-day trip that coalition members agreed to an unspecified package of measures that will make them compliant with guidelines from regional leaders.
“I believe that the implementation of this package will take the process forward substantially,” he said.
Zuma replaced former South African President Thabo Mbeki as chief regional mediator on Zimbabwe last year and has faced mounting pressure to take a firmer stand on resolving tensions between longtime ruler President Robert Mugabe and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now Prime Minister. Their power-sharing deal faced collapse in November, nine months after the coalition was sworn in.
“I am very encouraged by the spirit of cooperation displayed by (Zimbabwean) leaders and all the parties,” Zuma said after Thursday’s talks.
Zuma said local negotiators were instructed to “attend to all outstanding matters” during their next meetings later this month and report back to him by March 31.
Zuma met late Wednesday with Zimbabwe’s top law officer, Attorney General Johannes Thomana, central bank governor Gideon Gono and Roy Bennett, a top aide to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai currently on trial for treason charges that carry a possible death sentence.
Thomana is chief state prosecutor in Bennett’s trial and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change cites Mugabe’s unilateral appointments of Thomana and Gono among his breaches of the coalition deal.
Bennett, a farmer forced from his land in eastern Zimbabwe, denies allegations of plotting an armed insurrection to oust Mugabe in 2006. Tsvangirai nominated Bennett the deputy agriculture minister but Mugabe has refused to accept him into the cabinet before the High Court rules on his case.
Zuma’s separate meetings with Thomana, Gono and Bennett marked the first time the three have directly participated in mediation efforts at the highest level. Tsvangirai has demanded the removal of Thomana and Gono, both outspoken Mugabe loyalists.
Zuma gave few details from his meetings with Mugabe and Tsvangirai. He met with them separately and then together.
Tsvangirai’s party blames Mugabe for reneging on key provisions of the deal that allow for democratic and media reform, and an end to lawlessness after years of political and economic turmoil.
Mugabe alleges Tsvangirai’s party failed to win concessions from its Western allies to remove targeted sanctions against his loyalists that include an assets freeze and travel bans.
The coalition deal calls for fresh elections next year under a new constitution, but efforts to rewrite the nation’s supreme law have stalled over bickering and lack of funds for a countrywide public outreach program.
Some Zimbabwean lawmakers have called on the coalition partners to set aside their differences to concentrate on preparing for early elections.