MDC and Zanu-PF call for end to violence in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's main opposition party and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's party have issued a joint communique condemning violence, according to an opposition spokesman.

George Sibotshiwe, a spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change, said yesterday the communique was agreed to as part of a deal that opened the way to power-sharing talks. Those talks are continuing in an attempt to end a deadly political standoff.

Sibotshiwe did not immediately have details of the statement.

Attempts to reach officials of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party were not immediately successful, and Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a smaller faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, said he was not aware that a statement had been released.

In an agreement signed July 21 providing a framework for the power-sharing talks, both opposition factions and ZANU-PF pledged to issue statements that would condemn "the promotion and use of violence and call for peace in the country." The negotiations started three days later, briefly broke down and then resumed Sunday. They have been held at a secret location in South Africa, mediated by a team led by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki's spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said he could not confirm that a statement on violence had been released.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special Zimbabwe envoy was headed to South Africa Wednesday to get an update on the negotiations, Ban's office said. UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios also was to visit Zimbabwe later in the week, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters.

Mugabe is accused of unleashing security forces and party militants on opposition activists after Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe and two other candidates in March presidential elections. Scores of people have been killed and thousands forced from their homes in the violence. There have been reports of opposition retaliatory attacks, but not on the scale of state-sponsored attacks.

Mugabe, 84, and his ruling ZANU-PF party have led the country since independence in 1984. Mugabe was once hailed for championing racial reconciliation and spurring development, but in recent years has been accused of trampling on human and political rights to hold onto power, and of overseeing dramatic economic decline.

The economy was the main issue in the March elections, in which Tsvangirai won the most votes and the opposition seized a majority in parliament for the first time since Mugabe took power.

However, election officials said Tsvangirai did not win enough votes for outright victory. He pulled out of a June runoff against Mugabe, citing the violence against his supporters. Mugabe ran alone and declared himself winner of an election widely discredited as a sham.

Zimbabweans face the world's highest inflation and acute shortages of food and fuel. Private financial institutions say Zimbabwe's inflation rate was about 12.5 million percent in May and estimate it has likely climbed to 50 million percent this month.

On Wednesday, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, citing reports up to 5 million Zimbabweans could face a food crisis by the beginning of 2009, appealed for about US$26 million (€17 million) in donations to help 260,000 "vulnerable people."

Matthew Cochrane, a Johannesburg-based international Red Cross spokesman, said food distribution would start in coming weeks.

Mugabe ordered aid groups to suspend field work June 5 ahead of the presidential runoff, accusing them of supporting the opposition. Aid groups said that following the ban, which has since been partially lifted, the government has given food primarily to Mugabe supporters.

Cochrane said the Red Cross had not been affected by the ban, and has been primarily helping Zimbabweans affected by AIDS. He said the appeal was part of a plan to extend Red Cross aid operations in Zimbabwe.

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