updated 10/20/2008 7:40:21 PM ET 2008-10-20T23:40:21

Zimbabwe's opposition leaders boycotted a regional summit Monday, arguing the session was too limited to "knock sense" into Robert Mugabe and make a proposed unity government a reality.

Soon after the opposition's chief negotiator, Tendai Biti, appeared at a news conference in South Africa, leaders from South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Congo and Mozambique gathered in Swaziland. They were meeting as a committee of the main regional bloc, the 12-member Southern African Development Community, or SADC, to try to resolve Zimbabwe's political impasse — but Biti was dismissive.

"Going to Swaziland now won't resolve anything," Biti said. "Which is why we're calling for a full SADC summit."

A spokesman for Zimbabwean President Mugabe, who attended Monday's meeting, was not immediately available for comment on the opposition's boycott. Arthur Mutambara, leader of a smaller Zimbabwean opposition faction, attended the meeting but told reporters it was only to insist that no progress could be made without main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

U.S. closely watching
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters that the United States was closely watching efforts to arrive at a power-sharing agreement. "Should Mugabe not negotiate in good faith and set up a power-sharing agreement, then we will look at other options, including additional sanctions," Wood said Monday, without providing specifics.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal last month but are deadlocked over how to allocate ministries in a 31-member unity Cabinet. Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe's ZANU-PF party of trying to hold on to too many of the most powerful ministries, including those responsible for finance and police.

Biti said lack of progress during negotiations last week to break the impasse raised questions about whether Mugabe could be trusted to carry out the Sept. 15 agreement. Biti said more questions were raised when Tsvangirai, who was awaiting a new passport after filling all the pages in his previous one, had to fight for travel documents to go to Swaziland. Biti said Tsvangirai was given an emergency travel document over the weekend, but said he considered that an "insult."

"The issue of a passport is a mere symptom," Biti said. "The real problem (is) there is no readiness on the part of ZANU-PF to engage in a cooperative government with Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC."

Mutambara, the leader of the smaller opposition faction, said he told summit host King Mswati III of Swaziland that Zimbabwe could not be discussed without Tsvangirai. The Swazi king offered to charter a plane to get Tsvangirai to the meeting, but Biti indicated the opposition chief would not come under any circumstances.

Opposition appeal to African Union?
"Somebody has to knock sense into the head of Robert Mugabe," Biti said, adding the opposition might eventually appeal to the African Union, but that "SADC still remains the starting forum for the resolution of this crisis."

African leaders are traditionally reluctant to publicly criticize one of their own, but Biti said Monday he was confident that Zimbabwe's neighbors wanted a solution.

Zimbabwe was the main topic of a full SADC summit in South Africa in August. It ended with a call on Zimbabwean negotiators to press ahead with talks mediated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki that a month later produced the power-sharing agreement.

Zimbabwe faces the world's worst inflation, a looming humanitarian emergency and worsening shortages of food, gasoline and most basic goods. The economy had been a major factor in a March presidential election Tsvangirai won.

Tsvangirai, however, did not receive enough votes according to the official count to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai withdrew from the June runoff after an onslaught of violence on his supporters blamed on police, soldiers and Mugabe party militants. Mugabe went ahead with a runoff observers at home and abroad denounced as a sham, and was declared the overwhelming winner.

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


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