Three African leaders met
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and the main opposition leader
today in a push to resolve the country's political and economic
crisis but there was little sign of a breakthrough.
Presidents Bakili Muluzi, Olusegun Obasanjo
and Thabo Mbeki met their Zimbabwean counterpart today
who last month hinted he may be ready to retire after 23 years in
power, met privately with President Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo,
Nigeria's leader and Malawi's Bakili Muluzi at State House in
The three then met Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), but there was no mention - at
least in public - of the suggestion mooted by analysts and media of
seeking a way for Mugabe to step down with dignity.
sides we saw one common factor: Earnestness for negotiations to be
resumed," Obasanjo told reporters.
"Somebody said 'Look, it
appears as if this country is sitting on a keg of gunpowder'. That
might be an exaggeration, but things are definitely bad," added
Obasanjo, himself re-elected last month in polls criticised by
Once one of southern Africa's most prosperous
countries, Zimbabwe has seen its economy all but collapse with fuel
shortages, inflation well over 200% and half the population of 14
million facing acute food shortages.
Mugabe has blamed
sabotage by Western states incensed over his seizure of white-owned
farms to give to landless blacks.
South African officials
said the one-day visit sought to facilitate dialogue between Mugabe
and the MDC, which accuses Mugabe of a harsh political crackdown
amid Zimbabwe's worst crisis since independence from Britain in
Mugabe stuck to his demand that before any talks the MDC drop its
legal challenge to his 2002 re-election, which was dismissed by some
Western governments as rigged.
"The MDC said they don't recognize me alongside the British, the
Americans and the Europeans. Does the MDC now say they recognize me?
That is the issue," he told reporters.
"If they do, well, that means that the action now in court has to
be withdrawn and we start talking, and I now talk to them knowing
that they recognize me. And before we do that...," he trailed off,
opening his hands to signal nothing would happen.
But Obasanjo said that obstacle was a "little point which we can
iron out," promising to work fast so talks could resume.
Analysts say MDC recognition of Mugabe's legitimacy could allow
him a face-saving retirement before the next presidential elections
scheduled for 2008.
While Tsvangirai vowed to press a legal challenge to last year's
presidential poll results, he said earlier on Monday Mugabe's
willingness to talk could be the "light at the end of the tunnel"
for Zimbabwe and hinted compromise was possible.
"If they want to talk, we are ready to talk. If they see the same
national interest as we see it, I think there is hope for the
country," he told the BBC.
Yet as he prepared to meet the visiting presidents at a hotel,
witnesses said several people were detained trying to protest
outside. The MDC said 10 of its activists were arrested.
After the talks Tsvangirai, who is on trial and could face the
death penalty if convicted of plotting to kill Mugabe, said
negotiations with Mugabe's ZANU-PF were urgently needed, but made no
mention of dropping court action on the 2002 polls.
Mbeki, criticized by opposition and human rights groups over his
dealings with Mugabe, said the meetings in Harare had made "very
good progress" before he left for meetings in the Congo. -