Mugabe will have talks with MDC, says Mbeki

The South African President, Thabo Mbeki, said yesterday that President Robert Mugabe's regime had agreed to enter formal negotiations with the opposition to resolve Zimbabwe's mounting political and economic problems.

"I'm happy to say that they have agreed now that they will go into formal negotiations," Mr Mbeki told a news conference, adding: "I'm saying that I'm quite certain that they will negotiate and reach an agreement".

But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said it was sceptical of Mr Mbeki's statement and did not believe that Mr Mugabe was interested in serious dialogue. The MDC's secretary general, Welshman Ncube, said there was no indication from Mr Mugabe that he was interested in starting such formal, serious dialogue. "Perhaps Mugabe's commitment to dialogue is better expressed by Mugabe himself than through Mr Mbeki," said Mr Ncube. "This has not happened and we will be naive to believe Mugabe's intentions through Mr Mbeki unless of course he [Mr Mugabe] proves his willingness to talk."

There was no official comment from the Zimbabwe ruling party, Zanu-PF. A senior party official said: "Zanu-PF's focus is now on winning the parliamentary elections next year. That is all I know. I am not aware of any talks." Mr Mbeki made his comments after meeting Gerhard Schröder, the visiting German Chancellor, who said that he had made his views clear to Mr Mbeki on the "unacceptability" of Mr Mugabe's "regime".

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