Zimbabwe's opposition MDC and the ruling ZANU-PF party are close to reaching a deal on a unity government but the two sides still need to iron out the final details, a South African newspaper reported on Thursday.
Talks between President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai to end a political crisis are due to start in South Africa on Thursday.
South African financial daily Business Day, citing sources in both parties and people familiar with the talks, said a final settlement can be reached soon as the rival parties had already agreed on many issues on the agenda.
"They have agreed on most of the issues, except mainly the framework for a new government. The deal is basically done, but what remains are a few issues of detail, implementation and logistics," Business Day quoted a source as saying.
Zimbabwean political analyst Eldred Masunungure said a breakthrough in talks was possible as the rival parties had been talking under mediation led by South African President Thabo Mbeki since March last year.
"A breakthrough is a reasonable possibility, even in two weeks. This is essentially the second phase of the SADC-mediated process, the first phase having started in March 2007," Masunungure said.
Preliminary talks began on Tuesday after Mbeki secured a framework deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai on Monday for talks to end the deadlock since Mugabe's re-election on June 27 in a poll boycotted by the opposition because of violence.
Mbeki was appointed by regional grouping the Southern African Development Community to mediate between the Zimbabwean parties. He had been increasingly criticised, especially by the MDC, which accused him of taking too soft a line with Mugabe.
A senior MDC official said the talks will kick off in earnest on Thursday.
"I can confirm that the substantive talks are kicking off right now in South Africa, but part of the agreement that we signed with ZANU-PF forbids the negotiating parties from talking to the media so I cannot say more," the official said.
As part of the framework deal, the rival parties agreed to a media blackout but Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper reported on Thursday that MDC and ZANU-PF's main negotiators flew to South Africa on the same flight on Wednesday.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Public Services Minister Nicholas Goche will represent ZANU-PF at negotiations, while MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti and Deputy Treasurer Elton Mangoma would attend for Tsvangirai's party.
The Herald said ZANU-PF's decision-making politburo met on Wednesday and gave party negotiators approval to continue with the talks.
The Herald quoted ZANU-PF deputy information and publicity secretary Ephraim Masawi as saying the politburo expressed satisfaction with the framework deal signed by Mugabe, Tsvangirai and a smaller MDC faction.
"We gave Chinamasa and Goche the green light for them to go ahead with the negotiations within the parameters signed by the principals," Masawi said, according to the Herald.
The MDC says 120 of its supporters have been killed since a first round of elections on March 29, in which Tsvangirai beat Mugabe but without the absolute majority to avoid a run-off. Mugabe blames the opposition for the bloodshed.
The main aim of the Pretoria talks will be the creation of a government of national unity, but the two sides differ on who should lead it and how long it should stay in power.
Mbeki said on Monday that the Zimbabwean parties face a tight two-week deadline to conclude the talks, which are expected to be tense and possibly acrimonious. The MDC has accused Mugabe of violating human rights and rigging elections.
Last Mod: 24 Temmuz 2008, 17:12