Friday, July 18, 2008

(NEW ZIMBABWE) Ping snubs MDC official ahead of Mbeki meeting

Ping snubs MDC official ahead of Mbeki meeting
By Lindie Whiz
Last updated: 07/19/2008 11:53:24

AFRICAN Union Commission chairman Jean Ping – meeting South African President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria on Friday – snubbed Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) after it sent a junior official to meet him in France on Wednesday. The MDC, pushing for President Thabo Mbeki to be sidelined in favour of an African Union mediator in the diplomatic push for a political settlement to the crisis in Zimbabwe, wanted to brief Ping ahead of his meeting with Mbeki.

Diplomatic sources revealed Ping declined to meet the MDC’s emissary, George Sibotshiwe, the Johannesburg-based spokesman for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and a virtual newcomer to Zimbabwe’s political theatre.

“Ping refused to meet him (Sibotshiwe),” said one diplomatic source. “He instead offered to send his PA to meet Sibotshiwe and in the end the whole thing collapsed.”

Tsvangirai is being privately assailed by some party officials who say he has sidelined loyal party cadres for the sleek PR of Sibotshiwe and an increasingly influential cabal of aides, financiers and advisers based in South Africa.

One MDC official said Tsvangirai was unlikely to have made the call to send Sibotshiwe, blaming it on the “South Africa group”.

“How can they send to a senior AU official someone junior like that (Sibotshiwe), and in the process marginalising MDC structures? Why couldn’t they send (Prof Elphas) Mukonoweshuro who is the foreign affairs spokesman? It is embarrassing because these people ('South Africa group') don’t even know the protocols of international politics. It boomeranged; the result was there was no meeting.”

Sibotshiwe, when reached by telephone on Friday, asked to be called back in 10 minutes. Subsequent phone calls were not answered.

A second MDC spokesman based in Johannesburg, Nqobizitha Mlilo, said only Sibotshiwe could give an explanation.

On Friday, Mbeki pushed ahead with efforts to broker an end to Zimbabwe's crisis by welcoming Ping at his Pretoria Office. Ping came after another meeting between Mbeki and the United Nations’ Zimbabwe trouble-shooter, Haile Menkerios, who was appointed recently.

The closed-door talks were being held ahead of a gathering of foreign ministers in the city of Durban, where Zimbabwe's post-election violence and efforts to bring about some kind of power-sharing deal were to top the agenda.

While Mbeki posed with Menkerios and then Ping at the start of their meetings, he was tight-lipped on what they would discuss.

While little fanfare has surrounded the get-together, it is the first between Ping and Mbeki since Mugabe's re-election in a one-man poll on June 27.

The ballot was widely denounced as a sham in the West after Tsvangirai boycotted the run-off following a wave of deadly attacks on his supporters.

Mbeki has been trying to mediate between the opposition and Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party but, having made little headway so far, has faced calls to be either axed from his role or at least to begin working in tandem with the AU.

"The MDC has made it clear an expanded (mediation) team provides the best opportunity for a negotiated solution to the Zimbabwe crisis," the news agency AFP reported a source close to Tsvangirai as saying.

"The situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating on a daily basis and it is essential for the people's welfare that a transitional agreement is reached as soon as possible and we hope the outcome of Friday’s consultations will facilitate this."

The MDC and Zanu PF began preliminary talks last week aimed at establishing a framework for substantive negotiations.

Tsvangirai, who beat Mugabe into second place in the first round of voting in March and does not recognise his old rival's re-election, has so far refused to put his name to a framework deal -- although his aides have hinted he will be ready to sign after the Ping-Mbeki talks.

Mbeki was tasked more than a year ago by the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) to mediate between the MDC and Zanu PF, and was asked to push ahead with his efforts at a summit in April. The AU and UN have recently thrown their weight behind his mediation.

His Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was to give an update on the mediation efforts at Friday's meeting in Durban, with the South African government insistent that a resolution to the Zimbabwe crisis remain the sole preserve of SADC.

"Our view has always been, and I am stressing it, we are being diverted by a fake argument about the expansion of the SADC facilitation," Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad told reporters earlier this week.

"I don't believe that at this very crucial moment, adding new bodies, simply to sit in the same room, is what is required.”

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