US: Mugabe-named Cabinet would be "sham"

MBABANE, Swaziland (AP) – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe should focus on power-sharing talks, not appointing a Cabinet unilaterally, the top U.S. envoy to Africa said Friday.

Jendayi Frazer, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for African affairs, was asked by reporters during a visit to southern Africa about reports in Zimbabwe’s state media that

Mugabe was prepared to name a Cabinet without input from the opposition. The oppositions says that would undermine talks aimed at forming a coalition government.

A Mugabe Cabinet would be seen by the U.S. government as a «sham,» Frazer said, adding that members of such a Cabinet could be subject to U.S. sanctions. Washington has been among Mugabe’s sharpest critics, accusing him of trampling on democracy and ruining his country’s economy.

We believe that instead of trying to appoint a Cabinet, they should negotiate on the basis of the will of the people that was expressed in the March elections,» Frazer said.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai came in first in a field of four in the first round of presidential voting in March, and has based his claim to a senior position in any coalition on that result.

The official count did not give Tsvangirai the majority needed to avoid a runoff against second-place finisher Mugabe. Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff citing state-sponsored violence against his supporters. Mugabe went ahead with the vote and was declared the overwhelming winner, though the election was widely denounced.

Power-sharing talks mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki have stalled over the question of who should lead any coalition. Mugabe appears reluctant to surrender much of the power he has wielded since independence from Britain in 1980.
While his media has reported for more than a week that he was prepared to name his own Cabinet, he has yet to take that step.

Friday, the Zimbabwean government mouthpiece The Herald quoted Mugabe’s chief negotiator, Patrick Chinamasa, as saying Mbeki was scheduled to visit Zimbabwe next week to make … Tsvangirai sign a power-sharing deal.

Mbeki’s spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga had dismissed reports a day earlier that Mbeki planned a trip to Zimbabwe. Friday, Ratshitanga said he knew of no plans, but added: «if he’s going to go anywhere, we will issue a statement.

Mbeki has been accused of appeasing Mugabe, but insists his policy of quiet diplomacy is the only way to ensure the negotiations produce results.

Also Friday, Frazer addressed another controversy brewing in the region. She was in Swaziland for the southern African kingdom’s weekend independence celebrations, which have been denounced as extravagant in a country with high unemployment, poverty and AIDS rates.

Frazer said it was not for the U.S. government to set spending priorities for Swaziland, but we want to see significant resources allocated on health, education and economic development.

Saturday’s festivities in Swaziland mark King Mswati III’s birthday and the anniversary of Swaziland’s independence from Britain. Swazis have demonstrated this week to protest the cost of the celebrations, officially put at US$2.5 million though widely believed to be five times higher.