- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

For the first time, Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he is ready to discuss an amnesty for President Robert Mugabe if that would clear the way for the authoritarian 83-year-old leader to cede power.

In an opinion article published in today’s edition of The Washington Times, Mr. Tsvangirai said that he is ready to negotiate a transfer to democratic rule in Zimbabwe, with “no preconditions except that discussion must be aimed at bringing true freedom to the country.”

Negotiators, including senior members of the South Africa government, human rights activists and journalists have urged Mr. Tsvangirai for two years to declare clearly that he would offer such an amnesty for Mr. Mugabe, his generals, secret police and Cabinet ministers.

But this is Zimbabwe’s “Catch-22,” Mr. Tsvangirai said in his article.

“If we say we’ll bring these people to justice, they will cling ever more firmly to power,” he said. “Yet, if we offer them unconditional pardon, we sell out the hopes of their victims — millions of people who have a right to justice.”

After 27 years in power, Mr. Mugabe’s government stands accused of ethnic cleansing, torture and, since 2000, the murder or disappearance of as many as 300 people.

Two years ago, he ordered bulldozers to clear shacks erected by the urban poor — many of whom had fled to the cities in the wake of a failed land-reform program — and an estimated 1.5 million people were rendered homeless.

Economic collapse has ushered in the world’s highest inflation, now 2,300 percent, and seen almost a third of Zimbabwe’s 14 million people flee the country.

Western governments, including the United States, still refuse to recognize the 2005 election that returned Mr. Mugabe to power, citing reports of widespread electoral fraud and intimidation.

Two months ago, police in the capital, Harare, stormed an open-air meeting where thousands had gathered to pray for change. Mr. Tsvangirai was arrested and so severely assaulted by police that had to be treated for severe head injuries.

In his article today, Mr. Tsvangirai recalls the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said: “If you want to make peace, it’s no good talking to your friends; you need to speak with your enemies.”

To that end, he said, if a deal to guarantee immunity from prosecution for Mr. Mugabe and other regime officials stands in the way of dialogue, “we could talk about that.”

But he also insisted that the main points of the deal would have to be an end to state controls of the press, free and fair elections, and an irreversible transition to democracy.

Mr, Tsvangirai said his greatest concern is that time may be running out for peaceful change in Zimbabwe.

“The change I talk about will come, regardless of whether Mugabe agrees to it or not. As surely as dictatorship fell in Chile, Cambodia, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the former Soviet Union, it will collapse in Zimbabwe,” he wrote.

The longer the government holds power by force, he said, the greater will be the wrath of the people when change does come. That could make it harder to ignore calls to put some members of the government on trial.

It is important, he concluded, to persuade Mr. Mugabe to step down before it is too late for peaceful transition.

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