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ZIMBABWE: Think-tank calls for new strategies to resolve crisis
April 20, 2004

JOHANNESBURG, 20 Apr 2004 (IRIN) - An international political think-tank has called for a "new" strategy to address Zimbabwe's deepening political crisis, arguing that previous diplomatic attempts have largely failed.

In a new report, "Zimbabwe: In Search of a New Strategy", the International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended a shift in policy focus from an interparty settlement, which it claimed appeared unachievable, to "the promotion of a free and fair process for the March 2005 parliamentary election".

The Brussels-based organisation noted previous attempts to kick-start stalled talks between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the main opposition Movement Democratic Change (MDC), but said these interventions had either failed or were on "life support".

The Zimbabwean government walked out of political talks with the MDC in April 2002 after the opposition went to court to challenge the presidential election result.

The only effort that had retained some potential was an independent move by church leaders based in Manicaland province. While the clergy had yet to obtain any clear commitment from either party, they had managed to maintain a dialogue with the MDC's top leadership and had met with President Robert Mugabe.

According to the report, the church-led initiative had also received support from civil society, the opposition and sections of ZANU-PF, but the confidence expressed by the clergy was not supported by developments on the ground, mainly due to ZANU-PF's determination to stall talks.

"It [ZANU-PF] does not have a coherent agenda to bring to the table, is opposed to a rerun of the 2002 presidential election, and recognises that serious talks would eventually have to bring up the difficult issue of succession to Mugabe, which ZANU-PF has not resolved even to its own satisfaction," the ICG said.

The MDC, on the other hand, had on several occasions indicated a commitment to talks and had reaffirmed its position that resolution of the crisis should start with negotiations at the party's annual conference in December 2003.

But so far negotiations between the parties had remained at the "talks about talks" level, which the ICG contended was unlikely to produce a settlement soon.

Given the current inaction on resolving the political imbroglio through dialogue, the report suggested that the international community now turn its attention to pressuring the authorities in Harare to create conditions that would ensure free parliamentary elections in 2005.

It recommended that the US and the European Union (EU) appoint envoys to travel and work together with key political players within the country and in the region.

A fundamental aspect of this cooperation would be the forging of a broad international consensus on benchmarks, including minimum conditions and timelines for the electoral process, based on the Norms and Standards for Elections of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

This would mean repealing recent legislation, which rights groups in Zimbabwe have claimed restricts civil liberties, and an audit of the voters' roll, with a new registration of voters under UN supervision if required.

The ICG report called on ZANU-PF to work with the UN and other bodies to meet the minimum guidelines established in the SADC norms and standards for a free and fair parliamentary elections process.

It also urged the ruling party to enter into immediate negotiations with the MDC, at least to establish conditions for credible parliamentary elections.

The MDC and civil society should develop strategies to promote a non-violent democratic transition, including more relevant and effective civil disobedience to address state policies it felt were illegal.

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