MAPUTO — Key southern African leaders wound up a special summit in the Mozambican capital Maputo on Thursday with calls for a return to dialogue in the ongoing political crisis in Madagascar.
The security body of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) condemned the lack of progress in implementing a power-sharing deal in Madagascar, even as its members praised the leaders' efforts to revive a stumbling unity government in Zimbabwe.
Following a closed-door meeting that included the presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia, SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao read a statement from the leaders urging Madagascar's Andry Rajoelina to return to the negotiating table with ousted president Marc Ravalomanana and two other former presidents.
"(The) summit urges all Malagasy (political parties) to return immediately to dialogue and show the necessary political will, leadership, flexibility, humility and balance to make concessions and reach a compromise ... towards the restoration of constitutional normalcy in Madagascar," the statement said.
The leaders also condemned an attempt by Rajoelina, who seized power in March 2009 with military backing, to call parliamentary elections for March this year, effectively sidelining an August power-sharing deal with his rivals.
"(The) summit rejects any attempt to use democratic means, institutions and processes to legitimize governments that came to power through unconstitutional means," said the statement.
"(The) summit also rejects the unilateral plan of the 'de facto' government of Madagascar to 'reorganize' the transition and hold legislative elections in March 2010, and urges the international community to also reject it," it added.
On Zimbabwe the leaders sounded a note of praise for efforts by South African President Jacob Zuma, the SADC facilitator for Zimbabwe, to revive the flagging unity government of longtime President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
"What the summit has concluded is that the situation has moved forward in a very positive way in Zimbabwe," said DRC President and SADC chair Joseph Kabila.
Salomao acknowledged there were unsettled issues still dividing Mugabe and Tsvangirai, including the controversial post of attorney general.
But, said Salomao, "They don't need to wait until they conclude all of them. They need to implement what they have agreed so far. That was the decision that was taken by SADC."
SADC had been due to review progress in Zimbabwe's unity government since a special summit in November broke a deadlock that threatened to sink the deal.
South African mediators had since held talks in Harare among the rival Zimbabwe parties to settle the differences threatening to derail the agreement.
Neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai was present at the summit -- though Mugabe had earlier in the day attended Armando Guebuza's inauguration for a second five-year term as Mozambican president.
Madagascar's rival leaders were also absent, though the head of the Madagascar mediation team, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, was present.
Disagreements between the island nation's four main political groups have scuttled repeated efforts to end the impasse there, with de facto leader Rajoelina trampling on previous deals to form a unity government.
Rajoelina last month fired a consensus prime minister and named a new one to replace him.
Discord over sharing government posts and drawing up an election timetable by the four political parties have also hobbled efforts to end the crisis.
International mediators meeting at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa last week called for elections in Madagascar to end the prolonged political crisis. None of the island's political foes were represented at that meeting.
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