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Page last updated at 20:23 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

UN calls for rapid Zimbabwe deal

A child walks past rain water and sewage near Harare (25 November 2008)
Experts have warned of an escalating humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said Zimbabwe cannot afford to fail in negotiating a power-sharing deal if the country is to improve its humanitarian situation.

Mr Ban said President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the opposition MDC needed a workable agreement soon, so they could tackle "formidable challenges" ahead.

Representatives of the parties are said to have resumed talks in South Africa.

Mr Ban also said he was concerned by a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, which the UN says caused 53 deaths on Monday.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said the fatalities brought the total since August to 366. The number of recorded cases increased by 1,604 in the past day to 8,887.

Ocha said most of the deaths were reported in the town of Beitbridge, which is located close to the border with South Africa.

It said the news, along with reports of several suspected cases in Botswana, meant the outbreak was taking on a "regional dimension".

Earlier, the mayor of the nearby South African town of Musina expressed fears about a possible cholera epidemic as infected refugees arrived from Zimbabwe.

Food assistance

In a statement issued ahead of the resumption of power-sharing talks on Tuesday, the UN secretary general said he was "alarmed that the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is now desperate and will worsen in the coming months".

The secretary-general urges all parties to support and provide humanitarian assistance leaving political considerations aside
UN statement
Mr Ban said he was deeply concerned that nearly half of the country's population of 12 million people could require food assistance and that many people were reportedly cutting back on their daily meals.

He added that he was distressed by the "collapse of health, sanitation and education services, and the consequent rapidly escalating cholera outbreak".

"The secretary general calls on the Zimbabwean parties meeting in South Africa today to rapidly reach an agreement on the formation of a new government," the statement said.

"The people of Zimbabwe cannot afford another failure by their political leadership to reach a fair and workable agreement that would allow Zimbabwe to tackle the formidable challenges ahead."

Graca Machel, Jimmy Carter and Kofi Annan hold a news conference in Johannesburg, 24 Nov
Three members of the Elders group were refused entry to Zimbabwe
Mr Ban also said he regretted the Zimbabwean government's decision to refuse visas to the group of world leaders known as the Elders, and not to co-operate with their "timely, well-intended effort to assist the people of Zimbabwe".

He said he hoped another mission could take place in the near future, given the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country.

One of the Elders, former US President Jimmy Carter, said on Monday that the situation was "much greater, much worse than anything we had ever imagined".

Mr Carter described the government in Harare as unwilling to communicate and said President Mugabe did not want to admit that there was a crisis, preferring instead to blame problems on what he called "non-existent sanctions".

'Basket of issues'

On Tuesday, representatives of the Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) resumed negotiations on a national unity government at an undisclosed location in South Africa, the Sapa news agency reported.

We have quite a mammoth task, particularly considering the insincerity, the inflexibility and the arrogance on the part of Zanu-PF
Nelson Chamisa
MDC spokesman
Former South African leader Thabo Mbeki is hosting the talks, during which the two rivals will attempt to agree on the distribution of key ministries.

In recent days, South Africa - the dominant power in the region - has increased pressure on the two sides to reach an agreement. Last week, it said it would withhold $28 million (18m) of aid until a representative government was formed.

On Monday, ANC leader Jacob Zuma called on the two sides to implement the power-sharing deal "for the sake of Zimbabweans".

But the BBC's Peter Biles in Johannesburg says there is no great optimism that a new coalition government is about to be named.

President Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to form a power-sharing government in September in the wake of disputed presidential elections.

Officials say Tuesday's meeting will focus on finalising a draft constitutional amendment which would enable Mr Tsvangirai to be sworn in as prime minister.

However, the two sides have still not agreed on who will control the ministry of home affairs, which has responsibility for the police.

The MDC has said it wants to discuss a "basket of issues".

"We have quite a mammoth task, particularly considering the insincerity, the inflexibility and the arrogance on the part of Zanu-PF," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told the BBC.

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