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Zimbabwe crisis talks break down -

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Zimbabwe crisis talks break down

The World Today - Wednesday, 30 July , 2008 12:40:00

Reporter: Eleanor Hall

ELEANOR HALL: In South Africa the crisis talks between Zimbabwean leaders stalled overnight. South
Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki, who brokered the deal for the meeting, said while the negotiators
have now returned home, the talks have gone well. Zimbabwean Opposition Senator, David Colthart,
said there was no trust between Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and the ageing
dictator, Robert Mugabe.

But he said he was optimistic that Mr Mugabe would sign a deal out of fear that otherwise his own
military may remove him from power. Senator Colthart is the MDC's Secretary for Legal Affairs and
is in Australia this week as a guest of the Centre for Independent Studies. He spoke to me earlier
today.

Senator Colthart, thanks for speaking to us. The news this morning is that the unity talks between
Zimbabwean leaders have been adjourned and the leaders have returned to Zimbabwe. What can you tell
us about what has caused the talks to stall?

DAVID COLTHART: The talks have adjourned. There are some reports that, that is because they have
reached an impasse. But my understanding is that that is not the case that they've reached
agreements on certain issues which issues now have to be discussed with the principles. Zanu-PF in
particular has to go back to speak to Robert Mugabe.

ELEANOR HALL: And are you able to tell us anything about those decisions that they might be going
back to the leaders about?

DAVID COLTHART: Unfortunately, you know, there is this blanket of secrecy around the talks. All the
parties have agreed that they will discuss the detail and so I would be in breach of that.

ELEANOR HALL: One thing that we're hearing is that the talks have in fact broken down because
Morgan Tsvangirai was offered third vice president and the MDC saw this as insulting.

DAVID COLTHART: I think it's unlikely. The general consensus that I've gleaned is that he will be
offered a substantive post. A third vice president wouldn't provide him with any power and simply
is a non-starter.

ELEANOR HALL: So you don't think that would be the case, that offer would be on the table?

DAVID COLTHART: They may have put that offer even before the talks started. But I think that
Zanu-PF itself would know that that is simply a non-starter.

ELEANOR HALL: How much of a problem is it that that the memorandum on these talks did not make any
mention of the key issue which is whether Robert Mugabe should remain as president?

DAVID COLTHART: I suppose the reason why they haven't put it as part of the agenda is because they
realise that for both sides it will be a deal breaker. I see the resolution to this in Mugabe as
unpalatable as it may be, remaining with the name of president, but with greatly reduced powers.

ELEANOR HALL: Would Mugabe accept that, do you think?

DAVID COLTHART: I think that Mugabe's going to have no choice. The economy is spinning out of
control and to that extent he comes to the negotiations with a very weakened hand. And I think that
the negotiations will focus on trying to save face for him as some form of compromise so that he
would remain as president but in pretty much a non-executive role.

ELEANOR HALL: You've said that the 1987 Unity Accord that Mr Mugabe negotiated with Joshua Nkomo
serves as a warning to the MDC. What lessons should your party take from that?

DAVID COLTHART: Well the 1987 agreement resulted in Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU party being swallowed up by
Zanu-PF. So if we want to remain relevant as a political party it's important that we address these
fundamental issues such as the constitution, human rights abuses and that in turn will guarantee
that we have a voice, an effective voice in future.

ELEANOR HALL: Given the history of that 1987 Unity Accord though, is it really possible to trust
Robert Mugabe on something like this?

DAVID COLTHART: We can't trust Robert Mugabe at all. He has always had a belief in a de facto one
party state. He is at his core a Marxist Leninist. And so he does not come to these negotiations
with clean hands; and he does not come in good faith.

But let me stress this: that the fundamental differences between now and 1987; in 1987 Robert
Mugabe was in charge of a country that had a reasonably strong economy, he had the backing of
pretty much the entire world and so he was in a much stronger negotiating position. Now it's
completely different. Robert Mugabe is alienated, is isolated, even in the region, inflation is out
of control, there's a lot of disaffection within the military and the police and the civil service.

And to that extent he is the weaker party and he we will have to reach an agreement soon because if
he doesn't there's the real danger that events will spin totally out of control and that he may
even lose power through the military taking things over themselves.

ELEANOR HALL: Are there any signs of that at all?

DAVID COLTHART: Well there are no signs at present because the generals have backed Robert Mugabe.
But there's growing disaffection in the rank and file of the military; and he can no longer afford
to pay viable wages. And that must remain a huge worry for him.

ELEANOR HALL: Given what you're saying though, about a complete lack of trust between the MDC and
Robert Mugabe; how is it possible to reach a compromise on something so utterly critical to Robert
Mugabe's future?

DAVID COLTHART: Robert Mugabe is an incredibly proud individual. But we think that if there can be
some face-saving mechanism for him, I stress, as unpalatable as that may be to me and others, we
may be able yet to negotiate a way out of this whereby Mugabe saves face by retaining the
presidency, hopefully for as short a period as possible, but meaningful power in transferred to the
person who really enjoys the majority support in the country now, namely Morgan Tsvangirai.

ELEANOR HALL: What do you see as the consequences if these talks don't resume and resolve the
situation for Zimbabwe?

DAVID COLTHART: Well the immediate consequence is that the economic crisis will not be dealt with.
Tied into that is of course the humanitarian crisis which arguably is the worst in the world.
Inflation is running at well over two million per cent; this past week the Zimbabwe Government
issued a $100-billion note which doesn't even buy a coke.

Out shops are empty. There is no food in the country. There are no medical supplies. People are
pouring out of the country. Over 3,500 people are dying a week in Zimbabwe and that situation is
spinning out of control.

That is why both Zanu-PF and the SADC (Southern African Development Community) mediators under
President Mbeki have insisted that these negotiations last no more than two weeks, because they
understand the gravity of the crisis. And that really we're talking about the end game now.

ELEANOR HALL: And that Zimbabwe Opposition Senator David Colthart.