The request from Tsvangirai, leader of the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, to Motlanthe apparently underscores his lack of confidence in the mediation of former president Thabo Mbeki.

Tsvangirai disclosed his request to Motlanthe in a letter written to Mugabe last week in which the MDC leader declined Mugabe’s request to return home and be sworn in as prime minister.

Tsvangirai is due to start a high-level meeting with senior executives of his party in Johannesburg today.

Tsvangirai wrote that he wanted renewed talks on the power-sharing deal but underscored that such talks should be under the chairmanship of Motlanthe.

"I have written in the same vein to President Motlanthe suggesting he convenes a confidential meeting in South Africa between you and me, under his chairmanship, so that we can iron out these matters to the satisfaction of all parties.

"I am sure you are anxious to proceed to the successful implementation of the Global Political Agreement, but the issues are so profound that we must act in a logical sequence," Tsvangirai wrote.

Mugabe had written to Tsvangirai inviting him to take the oath of office even before a constitutional amendment giving effect to the unity deal had been finalised. Mugabe’s letter, together with Tsvangirai’s long-withheld passport, were delivered to him on Christmas Day in Botswana.

Tsvangirai responded: "You are aware that the MDC justifiably rejected the recommendation of SADC and that the position regarding fundamental issues of principle has not yet been resolved.

"It is, therefore, presumptuous to conclude that the MDC accepts the allocation of ministers as per the schedule that you unilaterally gazetted. "When the Constitutional Amendment No 19 Bill has been passed into law, the roles of President and Prime Minister will stand properly defined in law.

"Otherwise there is no basis for appointments. In the absence of these processes, I find your proposal to appoint me Prime Minister irregular."

Tsvangirai wants Mugabe’s appointment of 10 provincial governors nullified and discussions and agreement on "equitable allocation of ministries", as well as the composition of a new National Security Council, due to replace the Joint Operations Command (JOC ), before he takes up his post in a unity government.

Motlanthe had hoped that persuading Mugabe to release Tsvangirai passport would sway the latter to join a unity government before the resolution of all outstanding issues such as allocation of posts.

Meanwhile, a Zimbabwean court yesterday ruled that a leading human rights advocate and eight other activists should remain in custody.

The State has charged Jestina Mukoko, who leads a local rights group, and the other activists with recruiting or trying to recruit people for military training to topple Mugabe’s government.

The arrests have raised tensions in Zimbabwe.

Defence lawyers had argued that the activists had been abducted, not legally arrested, and that Zimbabwe’s High Court had already ordered that they be freed.

"All the accused should remain in custody pending determination of the matters in the superior courts," said magistrate Olivia Mariga in her ruling.

Mariga postponed proceedings to next Tuesday.

"The court is of the view that remand proceedings should be postponed, as the defence is pursuing applications in superior courts," Mariga said.

The activists’ lawyers have lodged applications in the high court, seeking to set aside a magistrate’s earlier ruling that their clients be placed on remand.

They are also seeking permission for their clients to get medical treatment from doctors of their own choice. SOURCE: IOL