The United States on Tuesday called for a “neutral third party” to mediate talks between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition rivals.
In a pointed statement, the US said it remained “seriously concerned about the excessive use of force by security forces since January 14” when Zimbabweans staged street protests against a 168 percent increase in the price of fuel decreed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
With the economy failing and unrest growing, Mnangagwa – who was declared winner of a disputed election in July last year – has been forced to consider dialogue with his rivals.
Nelson Chamisa, who leads the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) refused to attend initial talks with Mnangagwa at State House, insisting that as a disputant, the Zanu PF leader could not be the convener of the dialogue.
“The United States calls on all sides to come together immediately in national dialogue. The dialogue process must be credible, inclusive, and mediated by a neutral third party,” the US State Department said.
“In order for such a dialogue to succeed, the government of Zimbabwe should end its excessive violence and intimidation, immediately release the civil society activists who have been arbitrarily detained, and hold security force members responsible for human rights violations and abuses accountable.”
The US extended its condolences to the families and friends of those killed in a brutal crackdown by security forces which followed the protests, noting that at least 13 people had lost their lives, 600 people were victims of violence, torture or rape, and more than 1,000 had been arrested.
Mnangagwa must change course, the US said, and implement the promises he made when he seized power in a military coup in November 2017, and when he was controversially elected last July.
“The government of Zimbabwe’s use of violence against civil society and imposition of undue internet restrictions betray promises to create a new Zimbabwe,” the US statement went on. “We also reiterate our call for the government of Zimbabwe to enact promised political and economic reforms.”
Chamisa, as part of conditions for engaging Mnangagwa, has demanded that troops be withdrawn to the barracks and that dozens of MDC activists and MPs held in prisons after being denied bail be freed.
The MDC leader, who does not recognise Mnangagwa’s presidency accusing him of electoral theft, has hinted that they will press for a “transitional authority” – which Zanu PF is unlikely to accept.
A unity government between Zanu PF and the MDC formed in 2009 following disputed elections stabilised Zimbabwe’s economy, before its dissolution in 2013 ahead of elections.