Zimbabwe factions resume Cabinet talks

President Robert Mugabe and his main rivals signed a power-sharing agreement last month brokered by former

South African President Thabo Mbeki. Since then, though, they have made no progress on deciding who would hold which posts in their Cabinet. That has meant they have yet to turn their attention to their nation’s economic and humanitarian crisis.

Mbeki has agreed to resume mediating. But the two sides met without him Saturday. Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, said Sunday that negotiators were going back to the table to find what he called «a domestic remedy» before deciding whether it was necessary to call back mediators.

George Charamba, Mugabe’s spokesman, said talks on Saturday between Mugabe, Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a smaller opposition group, failed to allocate control of just the home affairs ministry, in charge of police, and the finance ministry, the official Sunday Mail newspaper reported.

Charamba said the leaders met for two hours at Mugabe’s State House offices in Harare and decided to hand back discussion on the two ministries to negotiators for the parties who drew up the power sharing deal signed Sept. 15.

But Chamisa, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, said Sunday that disputes remained over the allocation of the whole set of 31 government ministries laid out in the deal, 16 going to the combined opposition and 15 to Mugabe’s ZANU PF party.

ZANU PF is trying to extract maximum gains for themselves. To say that two ministries are holding things up is absolutely incorrect. It is totally fictional, he said.

Under the power sharing agreement, Mugabe remains president and head of the Cabinet and Tsvangirai heads a council of ministers responsible for implementing government policy.

Talks on the sharing of ministries have already stalled twice over which party receives control of key ministries such as defense, justice, finance, foreign affairs, home affairs, information and local government.

The opposition accuses the home affairs ministry of condoning political violence by police and state agents against Movement for Democratic Change supporters.

Several top Mugabe loyalists would lose powerful government jobs and diplomatic posts if the unity government agreement comes into affect. Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.

The government has been virtually paralyzed since disputed elections in March in which the opposition won control of the Parliament. Many Zimbabweans fear no one is in charge now amid chronic shortages of hard currency, cash, food and all basic goods and medicines. Aid agencies have forecast that at least 5 million people, about half the population, will need food handouts by January.

Tsvangirai, 56, boycotted a presidential runoff vote in June, citing political violence and intimidation against his supporters. He beat Mugabe in the first round of presidential polling in March but not by the margin needed to avoid a runoff.

Mugabe, 84, blames the economic meltdown on Western sanctions.

Critics point to the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms that began in 2000, disrupting the agriculture based economy in the former regional breadbasket.