Zim parties 'closer to talks deal'

HARARE - Zimbabwe's rival parties have moved closer to a deal to allow fully fledged talks on the country's crisis, state media said yesterday, after sanctions against Robert Mugabe's regime were vetoed at the United Nations.

HARARE - Zimbabwe's rival parties have moved closer to a deal to allow fully fledged talks on the country's crisis, state media said yesterday, after sanctions against Robert Mugabe's regime were vetoed at the United Nations.

After vetoes by China and Russia on the targeted measures at the UN security council, Zimbabwean state media reported that negotiators from the opposition and ruling parties had tentatively agreed on terms for detailed talks.

"The working framework that has been agreed to so far removes the sticking points between the negotiating parties and paves way for serious talks," the Sunday Mail said, citing what it called highly placed sources.

The ruling Zanu-PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are to draft a memorandum of engagement, which will be subject to approval by the parties' leaders, according to the newspaper.

The memorandum will set out terms for talks following Mugabe's widely condemned one-man election run-off, including the time frame, composition of the negotiating teams and agenda for discussions, according to the paper.

A South African newspaper reported yesterday that Zimbabwe's rival parties were set to meet again on Wednesday in Harare and were expected to sign a deal that would lay the groundwork for further discussions.

The agreement would likely set out guidelines for negotiations that would occur over a 14-day period, according to The Sunday Independent.

MDC officials were not immediately available for comment, but the party has insisted that substantive negotiations could only take place if violence is halted and more than 1500 "political prisoners" released.

They have also called for an expanded mediation team, including a permanent African Union envoy, and the swearing-in of lawmakers as the opposition now controls parliament.

The reports follow meetings between both parties last week in South Africa as President Thabo Mbeki seeks a negotiated solution to Zimbabwe's crisis.

Opponents of further "targeted" sanctions have argued that the Mbeki-mediated talks need to be supported and not scuppered by such measures.

Mbeki, however, has faced heavy criticism over his quiet diplomacy approach, and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had previously called for him to be stripped of his mediator role.

But Mugabe's government has praised Mbeki describing him as a "leader par excellence" who had not yielded "to the machinations of the West led by Britain and the US". - Sapa-AFP

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