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Mediators Can’t Save Zimbabwe Talks

May 16, 2002

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Nigerian and South African mediators headed home Thursday after failing to salvage collapsed talks between the ruling party and the opposition over Zimbabwe’s disputed presidential election, officials said.

Meanwhile, three journalists were arrested Thursday and charged with ``publishing falsehoods″ over reports in The Sunday Standard that criticized the police, the newspaper said. Eight other journalists have been arrested and similarly charged under tough new media laws enforced in Zimbabwe since March.

Zimbabwe’s opposition is demanding a new vote be held under international supervision, claiming the March 9-11 elections were rigged to ensure President Robert Mugabe’s victory. It also wants reprisals against its activists to end. Mugabe’s party has refused to consider fresh elections and wants the opposition to stop holding inflammatory political rallies.

Talks were convened last month at the request of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and South African President Thabo Mbeki.

On Thursday, officials said Kgalema Motlanthe, secretary-general of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, and veteran Nigerian diplomat Adebayo Adedeji were to report back that no progress was made in getting the two sides together.

Zimbabwe’s ruling party canceled the dialogue last week, saying there was nothing to discuss as long as the opposition was challenging the presidential vote in court. The mediators from Africa’s two most powerful countries arrived Monday anyway in a bid to renew negotiations.

The mediators met Tuesday with Mugabe and leaders of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Mugabe insisted that talks could not proceed as long as court action was pending.

The opposition on Thursday accused the ruling party ZANU PF party of walking out on the talks.

``For now, it’s over. You can write a death certificate for the talks,″ opposition delegation leader Welshman Ncube said.

No official comment was available from the ruling party.

Mugabe, 78, led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 and has vowed to crush any protests against his victory. He ruled virtually unchallenged until the economy collapsed and political violence erupted two years ago.

Also Thursday, The Sunday Standard editor Bornwell Chakaodza and reporters Farai Mutsaka and Fungayi Kanyuchi were questioned at the main Harare police station before being charged for two articles the newspaper carried in its last edition Sunday, said assistant editor Brian Latham.

The articles dealt with the importation by police of sophisticated Israeli-built riot control vehicles and alleged police corruption, he said. The newspaper said police had bought the vehicles in anticipation of civil unrest in the crumbling economy.

Police had no immediate comment.

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