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Zimbabwe rivals start crisis talks in South Africa

  • Story Highlights
  • S African govt.: Talks start in South Africa to resolve Zimbabwe's political crisis
  • Representatives from Zimbabwe government, all major parties expected to attend
  • Opposition says talks are about conditions needed for formal negotiations
  • Zimbabwe's presidential runoff vote in June drew international condemnation
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Talks aimed at finding a resolution to Zimbabwe's election dispute began in South Africa on Thursday, according to Ronnie Mamoepa, spokesman for the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been tapped by African leaders to help solve the Zimbabwe crisis.

Representatives from Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are being held at an undisclosed location in South Africa, the official said.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Wednesday that the talks would focus on "logistics" and "how to move forward."

He said in a news release Thursday that the talks are not formal negotiations and that his party would not formally negotiate with ZANU-PF until violence against his party ends.

"We have stated that no such negotiations can take place while the ZANU-PF regime continues to wage war on my party and the people of Zimbabwe. This position has not changed," the statement said.

Tsvangirai said his party is represented by its secretary-general, Tendai Biti, and deputy treasurer-general, Elton Mangoma.

"Their presence at this meeting is solely to present the conditions under which genuine negotiations can take place and the mechanism under which these negotiations will be conducted," the statement said.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been tapped by African leaders to help negotiations between the MDC and ZANU-PF.

Zimbabwe's presidential runoff election in June drew international condemnation, most recently a statement by G-8 leaders Tuesday calling Mugabe's re-election illegitimate.

Tsvangirai withdrew from the race just days before the voting, saying Mugabe's supporters had orchestrated a reign of beatings, intimidation and murders against his supporters.

Leaders from the United States and Britain have been highly critical of both elections. At the Group of Eight summit on leading industrialized nations Monday U.S. President George Bush called the process a "sham."

At this week's summit the G-8 leaders' issued a statement warning Zimbabwe leaders that financial actions may be sought against those involved in election-related violence.

It came a week after the African Union, a coalition of African leaders and heads of state, adopted a resolution urging talks in Zimbabwe aimed at promoting peace and stability in the country.

Human Rights Watch put out a report in June in which the humanitarian organization said it had documented many cases of torture camps being instituted by Mugabe supporters.

In one case, "on May 5 in Chiweshe, ZANU-PF officials and 'war veterans' beat six men to death and tortured another 70 men and women, including a 76-year-old woman publicly thrashed in front of assembled villagers," the report stated.

That type of violence was "aimed at destroying opposition and ensuring that Robert Mugabe is returned as president in runoff elections," the report said.

Another report released in July by the South African think tank Human Science Research Council said retaliatory violence in the country by MDC supporters could cause the situation to spiral into a civil war.

"The sources of political violence extend beyond ZANU-PF's youth militias, war veterans, the army, police and intelligence structures. The newest addition to this mayhem is the retaliatory violence of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which seems to escape the attention of regional and international players," the report said.

CNN's Nkepile Mabuse in Johannesburg, South Africa contributed to this report

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