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Annan seeks Zim breakthrough

Dumisani Muleya

UNITED Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, who is expected to visit Harare later this year, is working on a plan to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis and provide a possible exit strategy for President Robert Mugabe, diplomatic sources said this week.

The sources said Annan was hoping to make a major breakthrough on the Zimbabwe issue before he retires soon.

He is said to be working with the international community on the issue, including South African President Thabo Mbeki who has been the world’s point-man on Zimbabwe for the past six years.

Sources said Annan’s plan includes offering Mugabe an internationally-backed plan for Zimbabwe’s rehabilitation and economic recovery, which implies economic aid in the form of balance-of-payments support, investment and trade finance, on condition that he give a firm timetable for his departure. If Mugabe agrees to the plan, he will also be offered amnesty over accusations of human rights abuses.

It is understood the international community also wants a programme of political and economic reforms to ensure quick recovery. The other issues include transitional arrangements, constitutional reform, free and fair elections, culminating in a legitimate regime in Harare. 

Sources said the plan includes the need for a comprehensive package of reforms that Zimbabwe has been working on of late with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF in March refused to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe insisting on full payment of arrears and structural reforms.

Mugabe recently offered to “build bridges” with Britain and other countries to end Zimbabwe’s isolation. However, the international community, including the United States and the European Union, have indicated no talks are possible unless a major policy shift and reform agenda are adopted in Harare.

Last month Finance minister Herbert Murerwa was given the same message when he met former Belgian deputy prime minister and foreign minister Louis Michel in Brussels.

Mbeki tried to work through the IMF to resolve the Zimbabwe issue by offering a conditional US$1 billion loan which Mugabe rejected. Mugabe in February in effect told Mbeki to “keep away” from Zimbabwe.

Annan last month dispatched Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the UN Under-Secretary-General for political affairs, to South Africa where he held talks with Mbeki on several issues, including Zimbabwe.

Sources said Gambari also met Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi on April 23 in Pretoria. The sources said talks between the two were frosty, putting Annan’s visit in doubt.

A UN official last night confirmed Gambari visited South Africa recently and met Mbeki.

Mugabe and Annan last year clashed over the Anna Tibaijuka report on Operation Murambatsvina.

Mugabe’s press secretary George Charamba said in March Annan had indicated to Mugabe he would visit Zimbabwe when he gets time. He said UNDP administrator Mark Malloch-Brown had written to Mugabe on Annan’s proposed visit.

Charamba also said Mumbengegwi would be working with Gambari on the programme for Annan’s trip.

Annan held talks with Mbeki on Zimbabwe on March 14. He endorsed Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe, saying: “The situation in Zimbabwe is extremely difficult. It’s difficult for the Zimbabweans, it’s difficult for the region and it’s difficult for the world.”

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