Power-sharing talks gathering representatives of Zimbabwe’s ruling and opposition parties have begun, after the arrival of the four main negotiators from Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, to South Africa, officials there have said.
On Monday, a deal agreeing to the negotiations has been signed by president Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvanigirai, opposition leader, paving the way for the talks. It was their first meeting in a decade.
The talks, which are slated to last two weeks, intended to end a crisis following disputed presidential polls.
For the talks to be concluded within that timeframe, progress will have to be swift, said the BBC’s Jonah Fisher, in Johannesburg. He adds that the future of Mr Mugabe and the structure and composition of a new government are yet to be decided.
Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), as well as Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, claim to have won this year’s elections.
Though the first round in March was won by Mr Tsvanigirai, official results gave him less than the 50% required for outright victory.
The office of Thabo Mbeki, South African president, who has been leading mediation over Zimbabwe, confirmed the start of the talks on Thursday.
There had been conflicting reports about when negotiations would start, and the deal bans parties from talking to the media.
The negotiators from Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the MDC travelled to South Africa on the same flight on Wednesday, reported Zimbabwe’s state-owned Herald newspaper.
Patrick Chinamasa, justice minister, and Nicholas Goche, public services minister, represent the Zanu-PF party, while the MDC has sent Secretary General Tendai Biti and Deputy Treasurer Elton Mangoma.
The Herald has been told by a Zanu-PF official that, at a meeting on Wednesday, the party’s politburo had been briefed on the negotiations.
“We gave Comrade Chinamasa and Comrade Goche the green light for them to go ahead with the negotiations within the parameters signed by the principals”, said Ephraim Masawi, Zanu-PF deputy secretary for information and publicity.
At least 120 of its supporters have been killed, about 5,000 abducted and 200,000 forced from their homes since the first round of the elections, in a campaign of violence by pro-Mugabe militias and the army, said the MDC.
But the charges have been denied by cabinet ministers and military officials.