JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Zimbabwe's main opposition leader boycotted a regional summit Monday, arguing the session was too limited to "knock sense" into Robert Mugabe and make a proposed unity government a reality.
Morgan Tsvangirai's absence prompted Zimbabwe's neighbors to propose moving a meeting of a committee of the main regional bloc to Zimbabwe next week. But that did not address opposition demands for all 12 members of the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, to meet.
"We are still calling for a full, extraordinary summit to assist us in resolving this issue," George Sibotshiwe, a Tsvangirai spokesman, said late Monday.
Zimbabwean President Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal last month but are deadlocked over how to allocate ministries in a 31-member unity Cabinet. Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe's ZANU-PF party of trying to hold on to too many of the most powerful ministries, including those responsible for finance and police.
Tendai Biti, Tsvangirai's chief negotiator, told reporters in South Africa on Monday that lack of progress during negotiations last week to break the impasse raised questions about whether Mugabe could be trusted to carry out the Sept. 15 agreement. Biti said more questions were raised when Tsvangirai, who was awaiting a new passport after filling all the pages in his previous one, had to fight for travel documents to go to Swaziland. Biti said Tsvangirai was given an emergency travel document over the weekend, but said he considered that an "insult."
"The issue of a passport is a mere symptom," Biti said. "The real problem (is) there is no readiness on the part of ZANU-PF to engage in a cooperative government with Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC."
"Somebody has to knock sense into the head of Robert Mugabe," Biti said, adding the opposition might eventually appeal to the African Union, but that "SADC still remains the starting forum for the resolution of this crisis."
Swaziland's King Mswati III, who chaired an extraordinary meeting of SADC's peace and security committee Monday, did not address the call for a full SADC summit in comments to reporters later Monday. But he said that because of Tsvangirai's absence, little was said about Zimbabwe during the Swaziland meeting, despite the presence of Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a smaller opposition faction. The Swazi king had even offered to charter a plane to get Tsvangirai to the meeting.
A statement released after the meeting proposed the committee try again to discuss Zimbabwe, this time in Zimbabwe on Oct. 27. That would make the question of Tsvangirai's passport moot, but opposition officials insisted the passport was only an issue because it symbolized Mugabe's unwillingness to treat their leader as an equal partner.
Sibotshiwe said the issues that kept Tsvangirai from Monday's meeting "are challenges that need to be addressed before the next meeting."
Instead of Zimbabwe, leaders in Swaziland addressed unrest in another SADC member, Congo, and political issues in a third member, Lesotho.
African leaders are traditionally reluctant to publicly criticize one of their own, but Biti said Monday he was confident that Zimbabwe's neighbors wanted a solution.
Zimbabwe was the main topic of a full SADC summit in South Africa in August. That summit ended with a call on Zimbabwean negotiators to press ahead with talks mediated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki that a month later produced the power-sharing agreement.
Zimbabwe faces the world's worst inflation, a looming humanitarian emergency and worsening shortages of food, gasoline and most basic goods. The economy had been a major factor in a March presidential election Tsvangirai won.
Tsvangirai, however, did not receive enough votes according to the official count to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai withdrew from the June runoff after an onslaught of violence on his supporters blamed on police, soldiers and Mugabe party militants. Mugabe went ahead with a runoff observers at home and abroad denounced as a sham, and was declared the overwhelming winner.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters that the United States was closely watching efforts to arrive at a power-sharing agreement.
"Should Mugabe not negotiate in good faith and set up a power-sharing agreement, then we will look at other options, including additional sanctions," Wood said Monday, without providing specifics.