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Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 00:00 UK

Diplomats aid Mbeki with Zimbabwe

Thabo Mbeki, file image
Mr Mbeki has been criticised for being too soft on Mr Mugabe

A group of senior diplomats are to help South African President Thabo Mbeki in his efforts to solve Zimbabwe's political crisis.

Envoys will be drawn from the UN, African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).

The move was welcomed by Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been critical of Mr Mbeki.

Mr Tsvangirai is currently considering entering power-sharing talks with President Robert Mugabe.

Sydney Mufamadi, a close aide of Mr Mbeki, announced the creation of a "reference group" consisting of AU head Jean Ping, the UN's Zimbabwe envoy Haile Menkerios, and Sadc official George Chikoti.

PRECONDITIONS FOR TALKS
MDC:
End to political violence
Release of supporters
Resumption of aid
Permanent AU envoy
Swearing in of MPs
Zanu-PF:
Mugabe recognised as president

Mr Mufamadi said the South African president had proposed the reference group during talks with the three envoys in Pretoria on Friday.

"[The group] will get briefings on a regular basis," he said.

"If a member of the reference group... wants to make a strategic input, they are welcome."

But analysts say Mr Mbeki is keen to remain the main mediator in the talks.

In a statement, Mr Tsvangirai welcomed the "appointment of a reference group of eminent Africans who will work with President Mbeki and the main parties in Zimbabwe to find a peaceful negotiated solution to the Zimbabwean crisis".

Accusations

A memorandum of understanding setting out the conditions for talks on a possible power-sharing agreement was expected to be signed by Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai this week.

But Mr Tsvangirai did not sign it, insisting that his demands had not yet been met.

His party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had identified Mr Mbeki - the lead negotiator in the talks - as a key problem.

They accused him of being biased towards Mr Mugabe, and Mr Tsvangirai had asked for another envoy to join the talks alongside Mr Mbeki.

The MDC has set several other conditions for talks, including the end of government-backed violence it says has killed 120 of its supporters.

It also wants Mr Tsvangirai's victory in the first round of the presidential vote on 29 March to be officially accepted.

Mr Mbeki was appointed in 2007 by Sadc, a regional grouping, to mediate in Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.


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