Southern African leaders discuss Madagascar standoff
08/17/2012 20:57 GMT
by Jinty Jackson
MAPUTO, Aug 17, 2012 (AFP) - Southern African leaders opened their annual summit Friday discussing ways to end a three-year political crisis in Madagascar, one of several crises likely to eclipse the official focus on infrastructure development.
The chief mediator for the political standoffs in Madagascar and Zimbabwe, South African President Jacob Zuma, was forced to pull out and return home, after a labour dispute at a platinum mine turned deadly and claimed 34 lives when police opened fire on a mob of protesting workers.
Despite regional powerhouse South Africa's leader being absent, the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) kicked off the two-day summit with talks on the deadlock between Madagascar strongman Andry Rajoelina and the man he toppled in 2009, Marc Ravalomanana.
Jean-Paul Adam, the foreign minister of Seychelles, which hosted the last meeting between the two rivals, said no new deal had yet been reached.
"No result for now," Adam told AFP. "There are discussions that are continuing," he said, referring to indirect talks between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana.
Opening the summit earlier, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza said the meeting had to seek solutions to conflicts in member states and called for mutual trust between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana.
The SADC is pushing the rivals to follow through on a roadmap meant to steer the island nation toward elections.
But a key stumbling block has been Ravalomanana's return from exile in South Africa. Rajoelina's government has consistently refused him entry and said last week after fruitless talks that Ravalomanana should never be allowed to return to power.
Ravalomanana has been convicted in absentia for the deaths of 36 protesters at the hands of his presidential guard during protests leading up to his military-backed ouster. He currently faces life in prison with hard labour if he returns home.
"What can we do to help them achieve consensus? Let's continue to value and promote dialogue as a mechanism to move this process forward," said Guebuza.
The SADC suspended Madagascar from its ranks after the coup three years ago, but the two rivals appeared before an SADC defence, peace and security organ on Thursday night at its request.
The crises dogging the region are likely to distract from the official focus of the summit, a $500-million (400-million-euro) proposal to develop roads and railways linking inland nations to key ports.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a quarter-million people have fled their homes since April when a rebel group calling itself M23 took up arms against government troops in the east.
"We are concerned by the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and give our support to re-establishing peace in this member of SADC," said Guebuza.
The regional bloc will also have to confront a brewing border conflict between Malawi and Tanzania.
The dispute erupted after Malawi last year issued an oil exploration licence to British firm Surestream Petroleum to prospect in Lake Malawi, part of which borders Tanzania.
Tanzania wants Malawi to halt the exploration to allow for talks to resolve the dispute.
"If they start fighting we are going to host the refugees," said Michael Sata, the president of neighbouring Zambia.
Malawi's President Joyce Banda said the two countries were talking but refused to comment further on the dispute.
Guebuza, who took over the rotating chairmanship of the group and is playing host in the Mozambican capital Maputo, did not mention the ongoing wrangles among Zimbabwe's political players over a new constitution to pave the way for elections.
A frail-looking President Robert Mugabe and his prime minister in an uneasy power-sharing government, Morgan Tsvangirai, also made an appearance at the SADC organ for defence and security on Thursday night.
The SADC has steadfastly maintained that Zimbabwe must hold a referendum on a new constitution followed by elections, but Mugabe's party is unhappy with some provisions of the draft constitution.
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