March 18, 2010 / 12:11 PM / 10 years ago

Zimbabwe leaders agree on way to end crisis: Zuma

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s leaders have agreed on what needs to be done to rescue a fragile unity government and parties will now work towards a deal, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday.

South African President Jacob Zuma (L)is welcomed at Harare International Airport by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, March 16, 2010. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Regional mediator Zuma met President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare on Wednesday and Thursday to solve problems that risk unravelling a power-sharing deal meant to rebuild Zimbabwe from economic ruin.

Zimbabwe’s unity pact helped stem the economy’s decade-long free-fall but squabbling within the coalition over policy and the slow pace of reforms has held back progress and stood in the way of fresh elections.

Zuma, appointed by regional grouping SADC to mediate in the crisis, said he was encouraged by the spirit of cooperation displayed by the country’s leaders.

“The parties have agreed to a package of measures to be implemented concurrently as per the decision of the SADC troika in Maputo,” he said at a briefing, flanked by bitter adversaries Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

“I believe that the implementation of this package will take the process forward substantially.”

Negotiators from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change would meet again on March 25, 26 and 29 to deal with “outstanding matters”, he said.

A South African official told Reuters the negotiatiors had clear instructions to work towards an agreement around the issues identified.

They would then report back to Zuma on March 31, after which SADC troika chairman Mozambican President Armando Guebuza may call a meeting to discuss the deal, he said.

Guebuza leads the SADC political organ that also involves Swaziland’s King Mswati III and Zambian President Rupiah Banda.

Mugabe, Tsvangirai and smaller opposition party leader Arthur Mutambara agreed to a unity government formed in early 2009 to end a stalemate over disputed elections.

But the pact began to unravel late last year when the MDC boycotted cabinet meetings due to a dispute over its implementation.

The party is particularly unhappy about central bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana, both Mugabe loyalists, remaining in their posts.

The MDC is also angry over the president’s refusal to swear-in MDC treasurer-general Roy Bennett as deputy agriculture minister. Bennett is being tried for treason.

Zuma met Tomana, Gono and Bennett separately on Wednesday.

Western donors have held back aid essential to help rebuild Zimbabwe’s economy, saying the 86-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled since 1980, must first implement concrete human rights and democratic reforms.

Former colonial ruler Britain rebuffed a call by Zuma this month to end targeted sanctions on Mugabe and his allies.

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