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JOHANNESBURG: Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai missed talks in Swaziland on the crisis in his country on Monday because his rival and negotiating partner, President Robert Mugabe, refused to give him a passport.

The government of neighboring Botswana on Monday condemned the failure to issue the passport as “totally unacceptable and an indication of bad faith.” Botswana’s president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, who has refused to recognize Mugabe’s legitimacy since a discredited, violence-scarred June presidential runoff, also called on other African nations and the United Nations to insist on a new, internationally supervised election in Zimbabwe if the deadlock in power-sharing talks continued.

Botswana’s stance will put other countries in southern Africa on the spot. All of them sent election observers to Zimbabwe for the presidential runoff — and they unanimously agreed the election was not free or fair. So far, they have opted to pressure Mugabe, in power for 28 years, and Tsvangirai, his longtime rival, to negotiate a pact to jointly govern the country.

Botswana, in a press release issued by its foreign ministry on Monday, lay blame for the deadlock in achieving a unity government at the feet of Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, which it said was “seeking to dominate power.” Heads of state from across the region, including Ian Khama, who was wildly cheered by opposition members in the audience, watched Mugabe and Tsvangirai sign a power-sharing deal more than a month ago.

But the two men have never gotten past the first choices needed to form a government: how to share the government ministries between their parties. Mugabe has unilaterally claimed almost all the most powerful ministries, a move that Tsvangirai rejected as a power grab.

Opposition officials are clearly hoping that Mugabe’s resistance to give a passport to Tsvangirai, who is designated to serve as Zimbabwe’s new prime minister under the deal, will make it difficult for African leaders to deny that Mugabe is clinging to the levers of power.

The opposition leader’s absence from the Swaziland meeting has raised further questions about whether Mugabe and Tsvangirai will be able to govern together even if they succeed in dividing ministries between their parties.

Opposition officials said at a press conference here on Monday that Mugabe’s persistent denial of proper travel documents to Tsvangirai was symptomatic of his refusal to commit himself to governing with the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Tendai Biti, the opposition party’s secretary-general, said Tsvangirai would not participate in the current round of talks in Swaziland with a senior committee of a regional bloc of nations known as the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, even if officials convinced Mugabe to give Tsvangirai his passport. Instead of direct talks between the two sides, the opposition is calling for an emergency meeting of all 14 nations that make up the regional group.

“Somebody has to knock sense into the head of Mr. Mugabe,” Biti said.

Tsvangirai has been seeking a new passport from Zimbabwean authorities since July. Last week, during four days of negotiations, Tsvangirai and his representatives repeatedly asked both Mugabe and the official mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, to give him his passport so he could travel freely, opposition officials said.

Biti said that the passport was in the possession of Mugabe’s office. But for the SADC meeting, Tsvangirai was only given only an emergency travel document, good for three days in Swaziland. To get there, however, Tsvangirai needed to fly to South Africa, spend the night, then fly to Swaziland. But he was unable to get a South African visa with the emergency document for Swaziland. By the time he got an emergency document good for both Swaziland and South Africa on Sunday, it was too late to get the South African visa, Biti said.

Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a small opposition faction who is participating in the talks, also condemned Mugabe for failing to give Tsvangirai his passport. Mutambara, interviewed on his cell phone as he waited for his flight to Swaziland, said SADC must “stand up to Mugabe’s shenanigans.

“We are sick and tired of Mugabe’s rubbish now. How do you have a prime minister being denied a passport?”

Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, however, dismissed the opposition’s claim as “a gimmick.”

“That’s not true,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters. “He has been given a travel document. South Africa is mediating, how can they deny him passage?”

With the talks looming, King Mswati III of Swaziland called Tsvangirai on Monday to offer to send his jet to bring him to the negotiations, but Tsvangirai turned down the offer, opposition officials said.

Tsvangirai told the king, “It’s not about a passport, it’s about Mugabe and ZANU-PF giving me the respect I’m due as the prime minister designate,” said Roy Bennett, the opposition party’s treasurer general. “The next step is a SADC summit and we’re standing firm,” said Bennett.

George Sibotshiwe, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, said of the African leaders now in Mbabane with Mugabe, “They should simply ask Robert Mugabe to give him his passport.”

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