A deal is due to be signed in Zimbabwe, between the country’s ruling party and opposition (photo, from abcnews.com). Both sides say that the deal outlines a framework for talks on the country’s political crisis.
President Robert Mugabe, as well as opposition leader would sign the deal, said Haile Menkerios, the UN’s envoy to Zimbabwe. And in order to witness the accord, Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s president, is to fly to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital.
The two sides are locked in a dispute over presidential elections, as they both claim to have won.
The deal comes on the day that a new banknote is issued, for 100bn Zimbabwe dollars, which is the latest sign of the country’s economic meltdown. It is not quite enough to buy a loaf of bread and is worth less than US$1.
Though the agreement was due to be signed last week, Mr Tsvangirai pulled out. In the initial presidential poll, the opposition leader won more votes, but election officials said there was no outright winner, and called for a run-off.
It was won by Mr Mugabe, but he was the only candidate, because Mr Tsvangirai withdrew. The government has been accused by the opposition leader of mounting a campaign of violence against his supporters.
“The signing will take place this afternoon”, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the AFP news agency.
Officials from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) also said that they expect the agreement to be signed on Monday.
But the opposition insists that the signing ceremony is not held at State House and should be low-key, says the BBC’s Jonah Fisher, in Johannesburg. It is due to be held in a five-star Harare hotel.
BBC’s correspondent adds that though some see a power-sharing arrangement as the only way out of Zimbabwe’s political and economical crisis, which is merely the starting point for substantive talks, the five-page agreement to be signed does not go into the details of such a possibility.
The central issue of Robert Mugabe’s future is not mentioned by the document.
He insists that he must be recognised as the country’s president, but the MDC refuses it, and accuses him of using violence to ensure his victory in the run-off.
The MDC wants some kind of “transitional authority” to organise new, internationally-monitored elections.
Although the deal is being seen as an important step forward, it is only the first step of a difficult process.
BBC’s correspondent adds that it was crucial in persuading the MDC to agree to talk that the South African mediation efforts were joined by the African Union (AU) and the United Nations.
Thabo Mbeki is accused by the MDC of being biased in favour of Mr Mugabe, and Mr Tsvangirai had asked for another envoy to replace him.
‘Democratise our society’
It was announced on Friday, that Mr Mbeki would be helped by a group of senior diplomats, drawn from the UN, AU and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).
Mr Menkerios (photo, from un.org) was one of those. He said he believed the two men had agreed a draft memorandum of understanding, setting out the terms under which they could enter direct negotiations. He also said that both men would have to sign the document to “clear the way” for talks.
But several conditions still have to be met before the MDC starts substantive talks with Mr Mugabe.
The BBC was tolds by George Sibotshiwe, party spokesman, that future talks would remain conditional on a complete cessation of violence and the release of all political prisoners.
“We want a government that creates a platform for us to democratise our society, in order for us to have a genuinely free and fair election”, he said.
Since the first round of the election, in a campaign of violence by pro-Mugabe militias and the army, at least a 120 of the MDC supporters have been killed, about 5 000 abducted and 200 000 forced from their homes, said the party.
But the charges have been denied by cabinet ministers and military officials.