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SAfrica s president to restart Zim talks

JOHANNESBURG, Jan 16 – South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, head of regional bloc SADC, will travel to Harare Monday to restart talks with Zimbabwe’s feuding political leaders, an official statement said.

Motlanthe will lead a delegation from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that includes former president and mediator Thabo Mbeki and Mozambique’s President Armando Emilio Guebuza, the presidency statement said Thursday.

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai told journalists in Johannesburg earlier in the day that South Africa will lead new talks within a week with President Robert Mugabe to revive a stalled power-sharing deal, signed about four months ago.

Tsvangirai, of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said Motlanthe will meet with the two rivals, insisting that he remained committed to the unity accord signed about four months ago.

Monday’s talks are to include discussion on a constitutional amendment creating the posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister, which are to be filled by Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, the head of an MDC splinter group, the statement said.

Tsvangirai blamed Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party for letting Zimbabwe’s humanitarian crisis explode, with food shortages hitting nearly half the population and more than 2,100 people killed in an ongoing cholera epidemic.

"ZANU-PF will not solve the problem, because they lack the will. They will not do what is necessary," he said.

"The MDC cannot solve the problems because we lack the power. We need to transfer power from ZANU-PF officials who will not solve the problems, to MDC officials who will."

Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal on September 15 after disputed elections last year, but the deal has hit the rocks over a feud on who will control the most powerful ministries.

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"A political agreement remains the best means of preventing Zimbabwe from becoming a failed state. I am committed to forming a new inclusive government in Zimbabwe and all I lack is a willing partner," Tsvangirai said.

"I don’t have a credible partner on the part of Mugabe, but we have to deal with him," he added.

The power-sharing deal called for a unity government with 84-year-old Mugabe remaining as president, while Tsvangirai would take the new post of prime minister.

The agreement also guaranteed that political parties could operate "free of harassment and intimidation" — a provision that Tsvangirai said has been ignored by Mugabe’s government, which has continued to arrest opposition supporters.

"The continual detention of these people is unlawful. They continue to torture our supporters," Tsvangirai said.

"All of this is a violation of the rights of citizens by a regime that has lost its way."

Human Rights Watch said Thursday that 32 opposition members and rights activists have been unlawfully detained, while 11 others are missing.

Zimbabwe’s hunger crisis is nearing a peak, the British aid agency Oxfam said Thursday, as millions of people see their food from last year’s harvest run out months before the next crop will come in.

The situation could rapidly worsen as aid agencies are forced to cut rations this month due to funding shortfalls, the charity said in a statement.

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Despite the worsening crisis in Zimbabwe, regional powerhouse South Africa insists that a power-sharing deal with Mugabe is the only solution.

"If you don’t want him to be part of the solution, then you must face the consequences that there are people who still believe in him and therefore you are making the task of resolving the problem more difficult," said Ayanda Ntsaluba, director general of the foreign ministry.

"It is quite clear to us that we can’t see a route to solve the problem of Zimbabwe that does not go via the stage of establishing some form of an inclusive government," he said in a radio interview.

But Tsvangirai indicated that he was not willing for talks to drag on indefinitely.

"At some point we will have to decide whether it is worth going into this government or not," he said.

"Should it collapse, the MDC will have to find alternative plans to continue with the struggle (for democracy) until the objective is achieved. We can’t sit back and mourn and regret."


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