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Row Over Passports Raises Tensions

THE gulf between President Robert Mugabe and the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai widened yesterday after the government briefly seized the opposition leader and two senior officials’ travel documents when they intended to board a flight to South Africa.

 

The opposition party said the move demonstrated Mugabe’s insincerity in ongoing talks for a negotiated political settlement.

Tsvangirai’s Emergency Travel Document (ETD) and secretary-general Tendai Biti and secretary for international relations Elphas Mukonoweshuro’s passports were confiscated for four hours by state security agents at Harare International Airport. Tsvangirai is using an ETD bacause his passport is yet to be renewed.

No reason was proffered for the seizure.

The three opposition leaders were due to attend a Sadc summit which opens in Johannesburg today and expected to be dominated by the Zimbabwe crisis.

South African President Thabo Mbeki — appointed by Sadc to mediate in the talks between Zanu PF and the two formations of the MDC — will table a report on the progress of his mediation process.

Biti is the MDC’s chief negotiator in the talks, which were adjourned on Tuesday after differences emerged between Mugabe and Tsvangirai on power-sharing.

The seizure of the passports took place despite the fact Tsvangirai’s party and the smaller faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara were invited to attend the Sadc summit, which is expected to deliberate intensely on a resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis.

Biti said the seizure of the travel documents showed that the talks with Zanu PF were a “farce and a sham”, while Tsvangirai’s spokesperson George Sibotshiwe said the move reflected Mugabe’s insincerity in the negotiations.

“This is simply an attempt to prevent Morgan Tsvangirai from attending the Sadc meeting, to which he has been invited,” Sibotshiwe said. “This is a demonstration of lack of sincerity on the part of the government of Robert Mugbae.”

The MDC’s information department said the travel documents were released “after four hours”. Tsvangirai is now due to leave this morning.

Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu yesterday said he could not comment on the matter.

Mbeki is today expected to present a report to the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security made up of the leaders of Angola, Tanzania and Swaziland, on the Zimbabwe talks.

The troika would be expected to lay the ground for intense deliberations on the country’s crisis when the 14-nation regional bloc’s leaders meet tomorrow.

The leaders are expected to grill Mbeki, amid the apparent divisions in Sadc on how to handle the Zimbabwe issue, with Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania having publicly said they do not recognise Mugabe as the legitimate president.

Botswana said it would snub the summit in South Africa because Mugabe was invited — a move diplomatic sources said could escalate the tension between the diamond-rich country and Zimbabwe.

The sources said there would be attempts by Zimbabwe and its allies in the region to isolate Botswana.

“There will be a backlash against Botswana,” one of the diplomatic sources said. “Zimbabwe or its allies in the region will propose to move the Sadc headquarters from Botswana for boycotting the summit.”

Zimbabwe, the sources said, was likely to be backed on the proposal by Namibia, Malawi and Angola, Mugabe’s key allies. The proposed host of the Sadc head office is Namibia.

The stance of other countries on the issue, such as South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Mauritius was not clear.

South African Foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Wednesday said the host country would be “sad” if Botswana followed through its threats to boycott the summit.

“Between South Africa and Botswana there is really no problem. The problem that they may have is not within South Africa’s control,” Dlamini-Zuma said. “It’s a problem that South Africa is spending a lot of time, energy and resources trying to resolve.”

By Constantine Chimakure

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