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Phony Issues Cloud Zimbabwe Unity Talks

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South African mediators are meeting with negotiators for Zimbabwe's feuding political parties in a renewed effort to resolve the issues dividing the nation's transitional government and hindering its recovery.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said the talks will wrap up successfully before the deadline set by the Southern African Development Community, the regional intergovernmental group that brought the parties together in the Global Political agreement, or GPA, that created the transitional government. But if President Robert Mugabe's negotiating team continues to press issues that Prime Minister Tsvangirai and other opposition party members have no control over, reaching consensus may be impossible. And given Mugabe's track record in dealing with his opponents that unfortunately may be the point.

The Mugabe-controlled Herald newspaper in Harare quoted one negotiator as saying the talks have foundered on 4 major points. These are naming a new attorney general and new governor of the country's Reserve Bank; lifting international sanctions imposed on Mugabe and members of his circle; and silencing foreign media outlets broadcasting into Zimbabwe. Of these, only the ministerial posts are within the power of those at the bargaining table, and they are Mugabe's representatives.

Lifting the sanctions is a familiar theme in the Mugabe mantra, proof if anything of their effectiveness in making him and other key members of the ZANU-PF party understand the costs of their destructive policies. The European Union, United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Switzerland, all of whom have targeted sanctions in place, have repeatedly responded that in supporting the GPA they expect actions, not promises toward real reform.

Foreign broadcasters such as the Voice of America's Studio Seven and London-based SW Radio Africa, among others – "pirate radio stations" in the Mugabe lexicon – also are a long-running irritant for Mugabe that he has irresponsibly added to the unity talks. Foreign broadcasters are forced to operate outside of Zimbabwe because there are no free media there. Independent radio is banned in a monopoly of government-sponsored news, information and opinion provided by the ZBC.

If the Mugabe regime really wants foreign-based stations to stop broadcasting into Zimbabwe, let it release its grip on the media there, liberalize the press and broadcasting environment, and domestic radio stations will flourish.