updated 7/28/2008 2:35:26 PM ET 2008-07-28T18:35:26

Power-sharing talks between Zimbabwe's opposition and negotiators for President Robert Mugabe broke off on Monday and the longtime leader's representatives flew home, two officials close to the talks said.

One of them, in Zimbabwe, said the two negotiators — Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche — might be going home to consult Mugabe about their mandate. He said it was not clear whether the talks were in recess or had broken down.

All the officials insisted on anonymity because the parties agreed to a media blackout during the talks in South Africa.

A third official in Zimbabwe said opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai left Zimbabwe Monday and was driving to the South African capital, Pretoria, to consult with his negotiators.

Talks stall over Mugabe presidency
The talks between Zimbabwe's ruling and opposition parties began Thursday. One of the officials said the talks stalled over Mugabe's insistence that he remain president.

Tsvangirai won the most votes in March elections but pulled out of a June runoff because of the months of escalating state-sponsored violence. Mugabe ran alone and declared himself winner, though most see that election as a sham.

The biggest obstacle to any agreement always was who would lead a new government.

Tsvangirai has said that an agreeable settlement must recognize only his victory in the March elections. Mugabe, who has survived years of attempts to oust him even by his own party, insists he should head any government.

The agreement to hold power-sharing talks was reached a week ago with increasing violence and some 2,000 supporters in jail putting pressure on the opposition while intense international disapproval — including some African governments saying they could not recognize Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe — appeared to sway Mugabe's ruling party.

Tsvangirai has been criticized by his own party members for agreeing to the talks without insisting that his followers, including some newly elected legislators, be freed from jail.

Last week's agreement called for an end to all violence. Though beatings and abductions of opposition activists have diminished, the violence still continues, according to doctors and analysts in Zimbabwe.

Food subsidies, distribution part of talks
The agreement also calls for the government to reverse an order barring non-governmental organizations from distributing food. Mugabe accused the organizations of selectively feeding only opposition supporters. Mugabe recently has made cheaper food available to the poor, but residents say it goes only to registered supporters of his ZANU-PF party. The subsidized food also is sold to soldiers whose officers are among Mugabe's strongest loyalists.

One third of Zimbabweans are hungry and dependent on foreign food aid and another third of the population has fled the southern African nation's political and economic disaster.

Zimbabwe used to grow enough to feed itself and export food to the region until Mugabe turned on white commercial farmers, ordering invasions of their farms and saying he would give them to poor black peasants.

Instead, the land went to his ministers and generals and was left to lie fallow, destroying the economy.

Today, there are chronic shortages of everything including medication, fuel, food, electricity and water and Zimbabwe suffers the highest inflation rate in the world. Last week, the central bank issued a $100 billion note that is not enough to buy a loaf of bread.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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