An official of Rhodesian guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union said yesterday that it was still the policy of the guerrilla alliance, the Patriotic Front, to attend a British and American sponsored all-parties conference to seek an end to the Rhodesian war.
Yesterday, Joshua Nkomo, leader of the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union, which makes up the Patriotic Front with Mugabe's group, said that as far as he was concerned the plan for an all-parties conference was "dead now and buried."
Emphasizing that he was speaking for the Patriotic Front, National Union Secretary General Edgar Tekere said that organization's position is that an all-parties conference "is not dead and buried."
"There is therefore no change of position or approach by the Patriotic Front and the frontline states. That position wil not be altered by anyone chosing to behave in a discordant manner," Tekere said.
This divergence of views between the two guerrilla leaders could lead to an open split in the Patriotic Front, further complicating efforts to end the six-year-old war in the former British Colony.
Tekere said that the Patriotic Front welcomes a British-American statement issued Monday pledging to continue to work for conference of all the involved parties as a "positive show of resumed determination on the part of the Anglo-Americans" after "wasting their time attending to other secret maneuvers divisive of the Patriotic Front and the fontline states."
This was a barb at the British and Americans for a secret meeting here last month between Nkomo and Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith. Tekere said his group "did not authorize and was not present at" that meeting. It took place with the knowledge of the U.S. British and Soviet governments according to informed sources. Mugabe's group apparently views this an implicit support for such a meeting and as an attempt to work out an agreement between Smith and Nkomo that might have split the Patriotic Front and left Mugabe's group in a secondary position.
Asked if the differences between Nkomo and Mugabe meant there was a split in the patriotic front, Tekere said, "I'm not going to say that. I have not attended any meeting of the Patriotic Front which shows there is a split in it."
The public challenge to Nkomo by Mugabe's group is not doubt intended to pressure the Anglo-American team working to organize an all-parties conference into prodding Nkomo back into accepting such a conference.
Tekere said that his party has been requesting a meeting with the leadership of Nkomo's group since Aug. 19 "but this has not been possible for our ZAPU colleagues, but we are still waiting."
The unity of the Patriotic Front has been a fragile one partly because the two Rhodesian movements draw their support from different tribal groups inside the country.