Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - The economic risks posed by Zimbabwe to the broader southern African region have prompted African leaders to engage President Robert Mugabe in talks aimed at peaceful regime change in that troubled country.
The presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi are expecting to hold follow-up talks after this past week's discussions with Mugabe and his challenger, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
While the eventual goal is to change the political reality in Zimbabwe, the talks' first aim is simply to get Mugabe and Tsvangirai to sit down at the same table.
Mugabe says he will only meet with the opposition leader after Tsvangirai recognizes the legitimacy of his presidency and drops a lawsuit challenging the results of the widely criticized 2002 presidential election.
The trio of African mediators is urging Mugabe to drop the first condition and Tsvangirai to abandon the court case.
But Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is pressing ahead with the case. He said during the weekend that the opposition was preparing for a "final push" in the struggle to remove Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and establish democratic government in Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai announced a fresh series of mass protests and even urged members of the ruling party to join in and "finish this business."
The African presidents' direct involvement marks a change from their earlier "quiet diplomacy," reflecting the growing concern of African nations.
The U.S. maintains that for Zimbabwe's political and economic crises to end, Mugabe must step down and make way for new elections.
The State Department official in charge of African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, said recently that Zimbabwe had become a "risk" in the southern Africa region.
Speaking in Botswana while on a regional tour promoting trade and investment, Kansteiner said that Washington was encouraged by the efforts of the three African leaders.
Analysts say Zimbabwe's current troubles are largely the result of Mugabe's flawed land redistribution policy, which saw viable, white-owned commercial farms seized by Zanu-PF gangs.
The policy's stated intention was to benefit black peasants by giving them land to farm, but in reality, much of the prime land went to elites close to Mugabe. Much of the seized land has not been farmed, adding to a drastic food shortage.
The economic difficulties have been matched by a political crisis, with growing state repression against opponents of the regime and human rights campaigners.
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