19 Jul 2008

Diplomats to help Mbeki over Zimbabwe crisis

12:04 pm on 19 July 2008

A group of senior diplomats are to help South African President Thabo Mbeki in his efforts to solve Zimbabwe's political crisis.

Envoys will be drawn from the United Nations, African Union and the Southern African Development Community.

The move has been welcomed by Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been critical of Mr Mbeki.

Mr Tsvangirai is currently considering entering power-sharing talks with President Robert Mugabe.

Sydney Mufamadi, a close aide of Mr Mbeki, announced the creation of a "reference group" consisting of African Union head Jean Ping, the UN's Zimbabwe envoy Haile Menkerios and Sadc official George Chikoti.

Mr Mufamadi said Mr Mbeki had proposed the group during talks with the envoys in Pretoria on Friday.

"[It] will get briefings on a regular basis," he said. "If a member of the reference group …wants to make a strategic input, they are welcome."

Analysts say Mr Mbeki is keen to remain the main mediator in the talks.

In a statement, Mr Tsvangirai welcomed the "appointment of a reference group of eminent Africans who will work with President Mbeki and the main parties in Zimbabwe to find a peaceful negotiated solution to the Zimbabwean crisis".

Mbeki biased, says MDC

A memorandum of understanding setting out the conditions for talks on a possible power-sharing agreement was expected to be signed by Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai this week.

But Mr Tsvangirai did not sign it, insisting that his demands had not yet been met.

His party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had identified Mr Mbeki - the lead negotiator in the talks - as a key problem.

They accused him of being biased towards Mr Mugabe, and Mr Tsvangirai had asked for another envoy to join the talks alongside Mr Mbeki.

The MDC has set several other conditions for talks, including the end of government-backed violence it says has killed 120 of its supporters.

It also wants Mr Tsvangirai's victory in the first round of the presidential vote on 29 March to be officially accepted.

Mr Mbeki was appointed in 2007 by Sadc, a regional grouping, to mediate in Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.