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Zimbabwean Senator sceptical about talks -

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ELEANOR HALL: The two weeks of talks on a power-sharing deal between Zimbabwe's ruling party and
the Opposition have begun in South Africa.

Yesterday's signing ceremony was the first time in a decade that Opposition leader, Morgan
Tsvangirai had faced President Robert Mugabe; whom he accuses of orchestrating the political
violence that has rocked the country and destroyed the economy.

But while Mr Tsvangirai has said he will negotiate in good faith and many Zimbabweans are
optimistic about the talks, a human rights lawyer and Senator with a faction of the Movement for
Democratic Change, David Coltart, is sceptical.

He told the ABC's Africa correspondent, Andrew Geoghegan, that he believes Robert Mugabe will do
anything to retain power.

DAVID COLTART: Whilst this is a significant step forward, I think many of us are still sceptical
about whether the process will ultimately yield a meaningful transition to democracy and freedom.

We are dealing with a very cunning old fox in Robert Mugabe, and there's no doubt in my mind that
he has been forced into this process, will be looking for any avenue out of it and will do
everything in his power to retain as much power as possible.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: What do you think it took for those two men, for Robert Mugabe and Morgan
Tsvangirai, to shake hands?

DAVID COLTART: I think primarily it was the collapsing economy. Morgan Tsvangirai I think has been
prepared to meet Robert Mugabe for some time. It's Robert Mugabe who has described Morgan
Tsvangirai as the puppet of the west, as a traitor.

And I think that this was forced upon Robert Mugabe by the collapsing economy; and also by the
withdrawal of support for his regime by African countries, and SADC (Southern African Development
Community) in particular.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Now of course negotiators only have two weeks to get something together, to get a
solution to this crisis, which doesn't appear to be a long time at all, does it?

DAVID COLTART: It is not a long, and I fear that we may just result in a position similar to the
Lancaster House conference, which brought the then-Rhodesian civil war end in 1979. Politicians
then acted in an expedient fashion to bring the war to an end, they cobbled together a constitution
that was seriously flawed, and my personal fear is that we get the same now.

I think that this time period has been thrust upon everyone because of the collapsing economy; I
think that the South African Government, SADC and Mugabe know that if they hold on any longer, we
may well see civil disobedience here and a complete collapse of the country.

So the pace of this process has been thrust on all of us, but I don't see how we can agree (on)
these very serious issues, these long-outstanding issues within such a short time frame.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Well the aim of these talks is to form a government of national unity, are you at
all optimistic that that can be achieved?

DAVID COLTART: Well, I'm not optimistic in the short-term, and no-one can be optimistic in a
country where there's inflation running at well over two million per cent, where five million
people are desperately in need of food assistance, where some 4,000 people a week are dying. It's a
desperate situation that our countries faces.

But I am optimistic that this is a significant step; that we are going to make some significant
progress towards bringing democracy to our country. But there's a long road ahead.

ELEANOR HALL: That's human rights lawyer David Coltart speaking to Andrew Geoghegan.