Zimbabwe Deal's Fate Unknown Amid Conflicting Accounts

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 27 -- Zimbabwe's fragile power-sharing pact remained in limbo Tuesday, after southern African leaders said the nation's rival parties had come to an agreement but the main opposition party denied that.

Leaders of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community met Monday in Pretoria, South Africa, in what was depicted as a last-ditch effort to salvage a deal between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the opposition. After 14 hours of negotiations that ended at dawn, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe told reporters that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai would be sworn in as prime minister Feb. 11, after Zimbabwe's parliament passes a constitutional amendment creating the position.

But Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, swiftly issued a statement indicating that was not the case. While a communique issued by SADC addressed some of the opposition party's demands -- including, for example, a call for the parties to discuss the assignment of provincial governors -- the MDC said it had not gone far enough.

"Quite clearly the conclusions reached as reflected in the communiqué fall far short of our expectations," the MDC said in a statement, adding that the party's leadership would meet this weekend to discuss its next move.

The continued impasse leaves Zimbabwe mired in a political and economic crisis. Inflation is sky-high, hunger is widespread, and sanitation systems have collapsed, contributing to a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 3,000 people since August.

The power-sharing deal was signed in September, six months after general elections in which the MDC won a parliamentary majority and Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe. Tsvangirai withdrew from a runoff vote, citing state-sponsored violence against his supporters, and Mugabe won as the sole candidate.

But the deal soon broke down over its implementation and the opposition's complaints that Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years, betrayed the spirit of the agreement by trying to railroad the MDC into a junior position.

The opposition has refused to enter a unity government unless dozens of detained and allegedly tortured opposition and civil society activists are released unconditionally, a condition the SADC communique did not mention. The regional body also stuck to a previous recommendation that the MDC and Mugabe's party share control of the Home Affairs Ministry, which oversees the police that were used in last year's crackdown on the opposition. The MDC considers that idea untenable.

A spokesman for the ruling party said Mugabe will form a government regardless of the opposition's qualms.

"The dialogue about a unity government has been closed," Bright Matonga, the deputy information minister, said Tuesday. "We will not be taking any more of their demands. They have been shifting goal posts for months. . . . Very soon the president will start the process of forming a new government."

A special correspondent in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed to this report.

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