MDC dodges SADC meeting on Zimbabwe, demands full summit

Johannesburg - Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai avoided a regional meeting on the impasse in Zimbabwe on Monday, and demanded instead a crisis summit on the situation.

President Robert Mugabe was in Swaziland on Monday to give his side on the breakdown in his unity talks with Tsvangirai to a small group of Southern African Development Community (SADC) members, led by Swazi King Mswati III.

South Africa's President Kgalema Motlanthe and senior officials from Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo were also attending the summit, at which former South African president Thabo Mbeki was due to report back on his latest failed mediation attempt in Zimbabwe.

The MDC said Tsvangirai could not attend because he did not have a passport.

Mugabe's Zanu-PF rubbished Tsvangirai's objections as bogus, noting he had been issued with an emergency travel document,

"There is nothing surprising from his boycott. That is what he (Tsvangirai) is good at. But it shows the world who is not interested in having the stalemate addressed," Bright Matonga, a Zanu-PF spokesman told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Mbeki last week failed to break the deadlock between Mugabe and Tsvangirai on the distribution of ministries in a 31-member cabinet.

The third party to September's historic power-sharing deal, MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara walked out of the Swazi meeting in protest over Tsvangirai's absence, South Africa's SAfm radio reported.

Addressing a press conference in Johannesburg, MDC secretary general Tendai Biti said Mugabe's refusal to issue Tsvangirai with a new passport since July was "a symptom" of what he called Zanu-PF's lack of commitment to power-sharing.

Even if Tsvangirai had a passport, the Swazi summit "was over," he said. The party was demanding an extraordinary summit of all 15 SADC members instead to try to resolve the impasse.

Four days of talks in Harare last week brokered by Mbeki failed to yield agreement on which party should gain which ministry, with the MDC accusing Mugabe of trying to hold onto the important portfolios.

Sounding pessimistic about the prospects for a breakthrough, Biti said: "Zanu-PF is not ready for a cooperative government."

"It is like there is an invisible brick wall between us and Robert Mugabe," he said, stressing that the MDC had a mandate to govern after winning the last parliamentary elections in March.

Although SADC members have failed to get tough with Mugabe at a string of past summits, MDC members say privately they believe South Africa's new leader Motlanthe, a former trade unionist, might take a different tack.

The MDC, which grew out of the union movement and has strong ties with South African trade unions.

The African Union was also standing by to intervene if SADC intervention failed, Biti said.

"We have spoken to the AU and they are very eager to intervene in this matter." dpa