JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's presidential spokesman said yesterday that power-sharing talks between Zimbabwe's ruling and opposition forces were underway at a secret location.
But Zimbabwe's justice minister, the chief ruling party negotiator, was quoted as saying they are to start today.
President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed an agreement Monday to hold power-sharing talks to end Zimbabwe's crisis, which has deepened after three months of state-sponsored electoral violence.
The leaders agreed on the need to work together "in an inclusive government" and committed to creating a "genuine, viable, permanent, and sustainable solution."
Mukoni Ratshitanga, spokesman for mediator President Thabo Mbeki, said the talks are "in progress," but Zimbabwe's government-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa as saying talks will start today.
It is impossible to confirm the information from Ratshitanga because the talks are scheduled to take place in a secret location in or near the South African capital, Pretoria.
George Sibotshiwe, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, referred all questions to Ratshitanga. Chinamasa would not comment when contacted by the Associated Press.
Mbeki persuaded the parties to agree to complete negotiations within two weeks, in a sudden show of urgency apparently heightened by intense international pressure.
The agreement includes a key opposition demand for an end to the political violence, which the oppositions says has left more than 120 of their supporters dead, tens of thousands homeless, and thousands injured.
It comes after the opposition won a concession to broaden the mediation of Mbeki, whom they accuse of being partial to Mugabe. Mbeki agreed Friday to include representatives of the United Nations and the African Union.
Mbeki has long argued that dialogue - and not punitive sanctions - is the only way to deal with the longtime African leader.
However, European Union foreign ministers agreed in Brussels on Tuesday to strengthen sanctions against Mugabe, a sign the West will keep up the pressure.
Chinamasa and the minister for social welfare, Nicholas Goche, make up the government's negotiating team. The chief negotiator for Tsvangirai's party is its secretary general, Tendai Biti, and the deputy secretary general, Elton Mungoma. A third faction of Tsvangirai's party will be represented by its secretary general and deputy, Welshman Ncube and Priscilla Misihairabwe-Mushonga.