Zimbabwe Leaders Sign Agreement on Formal Talks

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21 July 2008
President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the founding presidentof the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have signed anagreement on the framework for formal talks. VOA's Delia Robertsonreports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

The agreementwas signed in the presence of the mediator, South African PresidentThabo Mbeki, and was sealed with a handshake between President RobertMugabe and MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai. It is the first time thetwo have met in 10 years.

Mr. Mbeki said that the agreement commits the parties to an intense program to finalize negotiations as soon as possible.

Mr.Mbeki said all the parties recognize the urgency of the issues theywill negotiate and are committed to completing the process as soon aspossible.

An African diplomat close to the process earlier toldVOA the MDC was anxious to set deadlines for conclusion of negotiationswithin two weeks; and also time frames for implementation of anyagreements reached in the talks.  

During talks last yearbetween the parties, adoption of a new constitution was agreed to, butno time frames were set. Mr. Mugabe reneged on an agreement that theconstitution would be implemented in time for elections held earlierthis year.  

After signing the agreement, Mr. Mugabe said thathe and the opposition leaders have agreed to various amendments to theconstitution.

The talks will focus on the formation of a government of national unity and the cessation of violence.

Itis expected that reaching agreement on a unity government will be verydifficult. Mr. Mugabe has made it clear he wants to head thatgovernment and wants the opposition to recognize him as the legitimatepresident of the country.

Mr. Tsvangirai holds that to beuntrue, given the findings of all observer groups in last month'swidely discredited presidential runoff election that it was not free,not fair and failed to reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people.  

Mr.Mugabe was the only candidate in that runoff after Mr. Tsvangiraiwithdrew because of widespread violence targeting his supporters andofficials of his party.

It is widely expected the Zimbabwe talks will get under way within days.