JOHANNESBURG, July 29 – Negotiations in South Africa aimed at ending the political crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe are deadlocked, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s spokesman told AFP on Tuesday.
"The talks are in a deadlock," said George Sibotshiwe, chief spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader.
"We cannot discuss the main issues, we can only say that they are in a deadlock and that the parties will consult with their principals," he said.
"If the sticking points are resolved then the talks will resume," he said.
Tsvangirai flew in to Johannesburg on Monday amid claims by his party that the talks between the opposition and representatives of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling regime had run into trouble.
His arrival in South Africa came a week after he signed a deal with Mugabe to begin talks on sharing power after a months-long election dispute.
The talks, which are being held at a secret location in the Pretoria area, are meant to be wrapped up within a fortnight of the signing of the initial framework agreement.
However the South African government, the long-time mediator between the MDC and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, has already indicated the target could be extended.
MDC sources had said on Monday that the talks had run into trouble over what post would be offered to Tsvangirai in any power-sharing agreement.
While Tsvangirai believes his victory in the first round of a presidential election in March should give him the right to the lion’s share of power, the MDC sources said Mugabe’s negotiators were so far only offering him the chance to become a vice president.
"They have offered Morgan the post of third vice-president and nothing else, which is obviously a position totally unacceptable to the MDC," said one MDC source.
There has been no comment so far from ZANU-PF, with neither of its chief negotiators, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa or Labour Minister Nicholas Goche, contactable.
Part of the agreement signed last Monday was an undertaking to respect a media blackout during the course of the talks.
After pushing Mugabe into second place in the first round of voting on March 29, Tsvangirai pulled out of a June 27 run-off presidential election after a wave of deadly attacks against his supporters.
The 84-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony uninterruptedly since 1980, then won the one-man poll by a landslide and was sworn in for a sixth term in office.
Tsvangirai gave the green light to his party entering full-scale talks with ZANU-PF after South African President Thabo Mbeki agreed to work with envoys from the United Nations and African Union in his mediation efforts.
The UN’s special envoy to Zimbabwe, Haile Menkerios, said it was inevitable that the talks would hit the odd hurdle given the huge gap between the two sides.
Tsvangirai, who has twice been charged with treason, is frequently dismissed by Mugabe as a British stooge while the MDC leader has in turn described the president as a dictator.
"From my experience, these kind of talks can take a while and it is not surprising that there would be a stumbling block so soon after they began," Menkerios told The Star, a Johannesburg-based newspaper.
"We must not forget that these parties have come to the table with very different views and it is negotiations that will help them to find common ground."