Harare: African mediators were set to meet on Friday with President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in a bid to revive Zimbabwe`s unity deal, paralysed over the arrest of an aide to the Premier.
Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader, joined the unity government with his long-time rival in February hoping to end political violence and halt the nation`s economic freefall.
Two weeks ago he suspended cooperation with Mugabe`s ZANU-PF party in protest over the arrest of Roy Bennett, his nominee for deputy agriculture minister.
"All we want is ZANU-PF to honour part of their bargain as stated," Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for Tsvangirai`s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said.
"We hope that there is going to be an objective assessment" by the mediators, he said. "The situation on the ground is not good."
A team from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) arrived in Harare on Wednesday in hopes of breaking the deadlock.
Mediators, led by Mozambican Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi, met on Thursday with negotiators from each party, and were set to hold talks late Friday with the two leaders, according to SADC.
Mugabe`s party accuses the MDC of failing to lobby Western nations for the lifting of a travel ban and asset freeze on the president and about 200 of his family members and allies.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who met with the negotiators on Thursday, told state media that the sanctions on Mugabe`s inner circle were the main threat to the unity deal.
"The bigger and substantive outstanding issues that have undermined the inclusive government and economic recovery and threatened political stability were sanctions and the failure by the MDC to call for their removal," Chinamasa told the state-run Herald.
SADC bills the visit as a scheduled but delayed review of the unity pact, which the 15-nation regional bloc brokered last year in the wake of failed Presidential Elections that plunged the nation into violence.
The United Nations and rights group say most of the victims of the attacks last year were MDC supporters.
The party says its members remain the target of attacks and arrests. The UN`s top torture expert Manfred Nowak was expelled from Zimbabwe on Thursday, despite an invitation from Tsvangirai to visit Harare to review the situation.
Nowak blamed his expulsion on Mugabe`s party and said he feared the unity government could fall apart.
But Zimbabwe Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi defended Nowak`s expulsion, saying that he was unaware of the invitation by Tsvangirai and that the government had asked him to postpone his visit.
"This was a calculated move to create a diplomatic incident," Mumbengegwi told reporters, but said Nowak could visit later "at a mutually agreed time in spite of this unwarranted, provocative act by the special rapporteur".
The unity government is meant to draft a new Constitution that would pave the way for fresh elections, and regional leaders are eager for the deal to hold.
Despite the political crisis, the unity government has managed to halt Zimbabwe`s economic meltdown by abandoning the local currency and easing price controls.
The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that the economy would likely grow by three percent this year -- after more than a decade of contraction -- but warned the economic gains depended on political stability.