HARARE (AFP) — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will sign a deal on Monday aiming to end a bitter political crisis amid doubts over whether their power-sharing accord can stand the strain.
Leaders of African nations will watch as Mugabe and the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change seal their peace pact that has taken seven weeks of hard fought negotiations.
There is widespread international interest in the details of the deal that will only be released at the ceremony.
Ordinary Zimbabweans, charities and human rights groups and foreign governments have all expressed caution over the deal, which a source close to the talks said would see Mugabe and Tsvangirai jointly leading efforts to rescue the stricken nation from a near economic meltdown.
Mugabe will chair the cabinet, while Tsvangirai would take charge of a national security council of 31 cabinet ministers, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Power will be shared, no one will get more power than the other party, even (in) the hiring and firing of cabinet members," the source explained.
"All decisions are made by the council, but the council will have to report back to Mugabe."
Under the agreement, the national security council under Tsvangirai will take charge of the police and the army, which the opposition says Mugabe used to terrorise opponents, according to other sources close to the talks.
Many Zimbabweans reacted warily to the deal, preferring to wait and see if the agreement improves their lives struggling with an official inflation estimated at 11.3 million percent, food shortages and widespread unemployment.
South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki who mediated the talks called it an "historic" deal.
But the United States, European Union and former colonial power Britain all gave a cautious response.
"We've started to try to get some details about the deal," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Friday. "I'm going to withhold any more definitive comment until we have a full understanding of it."
John Clancy, a European Commission spokesman, called the accord a "significant step forward," but added: "However we will have to wait to learn much more about this on Monday."
The European Union is reconsidering plans to extend sanctions against Zimbabwe following the deal, according to the French presidency.
Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Zimbabwe's people "deserve a lasting democratic settlement that will bring reform, economic recovery and stability. We look forward to seeing the full details of the agreement."
Zimbabwean aid groups predicted the deal would not end the country's woes.
"A government of national unity founded upon an elitist power sharing agreement is no guarantee that the humanitarian and other needs of the people of Zimbabwe will be addressed and healed," the National Association of Non-governmental Organisations said in a statement.
The body of at least 1,000 humanitarian and rights groups described the talks which led to the deal as "flawed."
The agreement reached Thursday followed a prolonged ruinous political stalemate between the 84-year-old Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
In March polls, Mugabe's ruling party was routed for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.
Mugabe was then re-elected unopposed in a June presidential election run-off that Tsvangirai boycotted despite finishing ahead of the president in the March first round.
Neighbouring Botswana welcomed the deal, despite having condemned Mugabe's re-election. Botswana's Foreign Minister Phandu Skelemani said he and President Ian Khamahe would go to Harare on Monday for the signing.
After Mugabe's re-election in a one-candidate vote, Botswana had called for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.
"We would go there to witness with others" and to show the leaders of Zimbabwe we appreciate they are moving "in the positive direction", he said.
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