Mediators meet Zim leaders

2009-10-30 11:38

Harare - African mediators were set to meet Friday with President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in a bid to revive Zimbabwe's unity deal, paralysed over the arrest of an aide to the premier.

Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader, joined the unity government with his longtime rival Mugabe in February in an attempt to end political violence and halt the nation's economic freefall.

But two weeks ago he suspended co-operation with the government in protest over the arrest of Roy Bennett, his nominee for deputy agriculture minister.

A team from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) arrived in Harare on Wednesday in hopes of breaking the deadlock.

Mediators, led by Mozambican foreign minister Oldemiro Baloi, met on Thursday with negotiators from each party, and were set to hold talks later on Friday with the two leaders, SADC spokesperson Leefa Martin said.

Victims of attacks

SADC bills the visit as a scheduled but delayed review of the unity pact, which the 15-nation regional bloc brokered last year in the wake of failed presidential elections that plunged the nation into violence.

The United Nations and rights groups say most of the victims of the attacks last year were supporters of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The party says its members remain the target of attacks and arrests. The UN's top torture expert Manfred Nowak was expelled from Zimbabwe on Thursday, despite an invitation from Tsvangirai to visit Harare to review the situation.

Nowak blamed his expulsion on Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, and said he feared the unity government could fall apart.

"All we want is Zanu-PF to honour part of their bargain as stated," MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said.

Main threat to the unity deal

"We hope that there is going to be an objective assessment" by SADC, he said. "The situation on the ground is not good."

Mugabe's party accuses the MDC of failing to lobby western nations for the lifting of a travel ban and asset freeze on the president and about 200 of his family members and allies.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who met with the negotiators on Thursday, told state media that the sanctions on Mugabe's inner circle were the main threat to the unity deal.

"The bigger and substantive outstanding issues that have undermined the inclusive government and economic recovery and threatened political stability were sanctions and the failure by the MDC to call for their removal," Chinamasa told the state-run Herald.