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10.11.2008 South Africa

South African Summit Tackles Crises

By Daily Guide

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Monday, 10 November 2008

Southern African leaders are meeting in Johannesburg for talks aimed at breaking Zimbabwe's political deadlock. South Africa's new president Kgalema Motlanthe urged both sides to show "political maturity" and implement a deal agreed after disputed polls.

An official said Sunday's meetings, attended by President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, would be "make or break".

Regional leaders also called for an immediate ceasefire in DR Congo.

The UN reported fresh fighting had broken out between rebels and government forces on Sunday near Ngungu, 60km west of the regional capital, Goma. More than a quarter of a million people have been displaced in the eastern Congo since fighting flared up in August.

Mr Motlanthe, who is chairing the meeting the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said: "We call for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian assistance to the displaced people".

"We firmly believe that there is no military solution to the problem."

 Sticking point

The emergency summit had originally been called to tackle the Zimbabwe political crisis.

Mr Motlanthe said he was disappointed that two months after the signing of a power sharing agreement, the parties still had not formed an inclusive government.

"The political leadership in Zimbabwe owe it to the people of Zimbabwe in the region to show political maturity by putting the interest of Zimbabwe first," he said.

Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and Mr Mugabe have been unable to agree on how to share cabinet posts.

The key sticking point at the latest round of talks was control of the home affairs ministry, which is responsible for the police.

The country is facing severe food shortages and rampant inflation but neither side appears to be willing to compromise.

The summit follows a smaller meeting at the end of October, which concluded without success.

A top Zimbabwean government official told AFP that Sunday's meetings would be "make or break".

He said that if Mr Tsvangirai and his party "continue to make outrageous demands, shifting goalposts", the ruling Zanu-PF party would go its own way, adding: "We don't care what the world will say."

Meanwhile, an opposition spokesman said that unless there was a "major shift" in Zanu-PF's position, the MDC would not accept the deal.

MDC chairman Tendai Biti said that Zimbabwe had become "an embarrassment to every African".

"We need to close this chapter of Zimbabwe so that Zimbabwe can reconstruct, can restart and can rehabilitate itself and can move forward," he said.

The BBC's Peter Biles, in Johannesburg, says that despite the international pressure, there is little sense of optimism about the summit.

Last week, the MDC claimed that Mr Mugabe's party had "killed the dialogue" by unleashing "a new orgy of brutality and assaults across the whole country". It said a Zanu-PF militia group had attacked at least 25 MDC supporters in the capital, Harare, and that state security forces had raided homes belonging to MDC supporters, arresting nine people including a two-year-old child.

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