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Tsvangirai to Seek Help from Neighboring Countries

BY Larisa Epatko  October 19, 2009 at 1:45 PM EDT

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. AP file photo

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai planned to visit the leaders of neighboring countries this week to “rescue” the unity government and explain his decision to temporarily withdraw from it last week.

Tsvangirai’s spokesman James Maridadi said the prime minister was leaving Monday to visit Congo, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa, reported the Associated Press. Congo chaired the regional group that mediated the unity government agreement implemented in February between Tsvangirai and Zimbabwe’s longtime president, Robert Mugabe. The other nations are key players in the Southern African Development Community.

Maridadi said Tsvangirai was seeking the countries’ help to “resolve the outstanding issues in the inclusive government.”

Tsvangirai decided Friday to disengage his Movement for Democratic Change, at least temporarily, from Mugabe’s “dishonest and unreliable” ZANU-PF party, quoted Reuters.

ZANU-PF called Tsvangirai’s move meaningless and said the work of government would proceed without him.

“As you will certainly see on Tuesday, cabinet will be held. The agenda for the meeting has been circulated and decisions that are binding will be taken,” Mugabe spokesman George Charamba told the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper, Reuters reported.

“As for this needless excitement from the MDC, I suppose the president will find time when the right time comes,” Charamba said.

Tsvangirai has condemned unilateral moves by Mugabe to fill government posts and continuing human rights violations blamed on ZANU-PF militants and security forces who report to Mugabe, news agencies reported.

Some analysts said the temporary departure likely would not torpedo the unity government.

“I do not think that this will lead to the collapse of the unity government. It is a difficult moment for the [Government of National Unity] but if SADC has any conscience still left it should move swiftly to salvage what is left of the unity government,” Eldred Masunungure, a leading political analyst and University of Zimbabwe lecturer, told Reuters.

Coinciding with Tsvangirai’s move on Friday was the terrorism trial against senior MDC official Roy Bennett. Arrested in February the day the unity cabinet was sworn in, Bennett is charged with illegal possession of arms for purposes of committing terrorism and banditry.

“The … detention of our party treasurer Roy Bennett has brought home the fiction of the credibility and integrity of the transitional government. It has brought home the self-evident fact that ZANU-PF see us as a junior, fickle and unserious movement,” Tsvangirai said.

On Monday, a judge said Bennett’s trial would be delayed until Nov. 9 to give his lawyers more time to prepare their case, according to the AP. Bennett was released on bail late Friday.

In 2006, a weapons dealer was arrested and initially accused of plotting to assassinate Mugabe. The dealer, who was eventually convicted of lesser weapons charges, told reporters he was tortured after his arrest and forced to make a false confession against several people from both Mugabe’s party and Tsvangirai’s party in the alleged plot.

Bennett, a former commercial farmer, is Tsvangirai’s nominee for the post of deputy agriculture minister, but Mugabe has refused to swear him in until he is acquitted.