PRETORIA, Jan 27 – Southern African leaders on Tuesday gave President Robert Mugabe and rival Morgan Tsvangirai until mid-February to form a unity government after marathon talks to break Zimbabwe’s political deadlock.
The emergency summit decided that Tsvangirai should be sworn in by February 11 to rule Zimbabwe alongside Mugabe, said Southern African Development Community (SADC) executive secretary Tomaz Salomao.
The swearing in of cabinet ministers two days later would "conclude the process of the formation of the inclusive government", Salomao added, reading a statement of resolutions after 14 hours of talks.
The 15-member SADC bloc, of which 84-year-old Mugabe is also a member, met after negotiations last week in Harare failed despite the increasing urgency of a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 2,800 people.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a deal last September to form a new government but the pact has floundered over disputes on key posts.
But South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, who chairs the SADC bloc, was confident of breakthrough in the four month stand-off after the summit delegates set the deadline.
"Yes, of course," he told reporters on Tuesday morning when asked if the Zimbabwe parties had agreed to join the unity government.
"They will present themselves on the set date for the swearing in and then proceed to form the government," he said.
The unresolved power-sharing issues sank talks in Harare last week, with Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF on Monday threatening to go ahead with a new government if the fresh efforts failed to end the dispute.
Negotiators from both parties will now meet immediately to consider a national security council bill submitted by Tsvangirai’s party, as well as a formula for the distribution of provincial governors, SADC resolved.
However, the bloc again resolved that the contentious home affairs ministry should be co-shared – a proposal previously rejected by the MDC – and reviewed six months after the new government was inaugurated.
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the resolutions were less than what the party had hoped for and that the party would later define its position.
"Quite clearly, the conclusions reached as reflected in the communique fall far short of our expectations," the party said in a statement.
"It is important that finality be brought to this issue and therefore our national council will meet this weekend to define the party position."
Mugabe faced increasing international pressure Monday with fresh European Union sanctions on his rule, and calls from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for regional leaders to do more.
"Clinton is very focused on this issue. She’s very concerned about it," spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington.
"Certainly the membership of SADC can do more," Wood said of the SADC bloc, which is chaired by heavyweight South Africa.
"We encourage South Africa to do as much as it can to try to put pressure on Mugabe to do the right thing. But to date, Mugabe hasn’t seemed to have any interest whatsoever in bringing about an end to the crisis in this country," he said.
March’s first round presidential election, in which Tsvangirai placed first but did not win an outright majority, was followed by a brutal wave of political violence.
Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off, citing violence against his supporters, leaving Mugabe to declare a one-sided victory in June.
Since then Zimbabwe has plunged deeper into ecomomic crisis with massive unemployment and crippling hyper-inflation, and half the population dependent on food aid.