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Mugabe 'to talk with opposition'

By CNN Johannesburg Bureau Chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is currently being tried for treason.

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PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) -- Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has agreed to hold formal talks with his political opponents, South African President Thabo Mbeki announced Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference with visiting German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Mbeki said the Zimbabwe leader told him both sides -- Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) -- had recently agreed to formal negotiations without mediators.

Shortly after Mbeki's announcement, an MDC spokesman in Cape Town, South Africa said it was "news to the MDC."

"If it's true, it's fantastic news," said James Littleton. "Until we see who is in a formal delegation and Mugabe announces in public his resolve to do this -- and dates and an agenda -- we won't believe it."

Both the ruling ZANU-PF and the MDC have been conducting low- and mid-level talks.

Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 but has drawn sharp criticism over many of his policies, including what many claim are human rights abuses targeting the opposition.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai led a campaign to unseat Mugabe last year, deeming his 2002 reelection was rigged, but was arrested for charges of treason. He is currently on trial.

The charges against Tsvangirai are based on a videotape of a meeting in Montreal between Tsvangirai and a political consultant which prosecutors say captured Tsvangirai discussing Mugabe's "elimination."

The defense says the video was doctored.

Mbeki has supported Mugabe's government in the past, amid international condemnation. In December, the Southern African Development Community criticized a decision by the Commonwealth of Nations, which also includes Britain, to suspend Zimbabwe after the 2002 presidential election was deemed to be largely fraudulent.

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