Botswana to boycott summit over Mugabe

HARARE (Reuters) – Botswana's president will boycott a weekend summit of southern African leaders because the country does not recognise Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's re-election, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

President Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s decision not to attend the summit in South Africa underlines growing pressure from regional leaders on Mugabe and Zimbabwe’s opposition to agree on sharing power to end post-election turmoil.

Power-sharing negotiations began last month after Mugabe’s unopposed re-election in June, which was condemned around the world and boycotted by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai because of attacks on his supporters.

Three days of marathon meetings in Harare this week failed to reach an overall deal.

Botswana’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Zimbabwe’s current government should not be represented at a political level of the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).

"Botswana does not accept the result of the June 27 run-off election in Zimbabwe as it violated the core principles of SADC, the African Union and the United Nations," the statement said.

Botswana has taken the toughest stand among Zimbabwe’s neighbours but all fear the consequences if its worsening economic decline leads to total meltdown. Millions of Zimbabweans have already fled across its borders.

Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition will resume power-sharing talks at the summit, ZANU-PF’s chief negotiator, Patrick Chinamasa, was quoted as saying by the state-owned Herald newspaper. He said ZANU-PF sought a quick end to the stalemate.

PLAYING HARDBALL

Nic Borain, political consultant to HSBC Securities, said behind-the-scenes manoeuvring may be the biggest obstacle.

"You have Tsvangirai’s backers who are playing hardball and insisting on the virtual disappearance of Robert Mugabe, and you’ve got Robert Mugabe’s backers insisting he remains, maintains some kind of executive powers," he said.

Chinamasa said there was pressure to convene parliament and form a government. ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority in the elections for the first time since independence but is eyeing a possible alliance with opposition defectors.

"We cannot continue wandering around without direction, hence the need to swear in parliamentarians and open the House so that the elected members can continue to fulfil their constitutional mandate," he said.

The MDC condemned what it called "corrosive" attempts by ministers and intelligence agents to recruit some of its members to join Mugabe’s government. "These are the actions of a desperate and cornered regime," it said in a statement.

Tsvangirai’s absence from a new government would do nothing to dispel investors’ concerns about a country facing economic ruin, with the world’s highest inflation of 2.2 million percent, chronic food and fuel shortages, and high unemployment.

Chances for a breakthrough in the negotiations may depend on whether regional leaders can present a united front when trying to persuade all of Zimbabwe’s parties to bury their differences.

While Botswana has taken a tough line on Zimbabwe, South African President Thabo Mbeki, the chief mediator in the talks, has come under repeated fire for being too soft on Mugabe.

Mozambique’s deputy foreign minister, Henrique Banze, was optimistic but called on Zimbabweans parties to do more.

"This is a hot issue on the table, which calls for Zimbabweans themselves to be more committed, but discussions are going very well, and we expect good results from the SADC meeting," he told Reuters.

The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), a Southern African organisation, said it has brought an urgent application to a regional tribunal seeking to have Mugabe barred from the summit.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon said he was deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, with the operations of voluntary and non-governmental organisations still restricted, following a June ban.

"This ban must be lifted immediately so that aid organizations can carry out their relief work and avert a catastrophic humanitarian crisis," he said.