Zimbabwe: Mugabe aides hold secret talks to gain immunity Army and police chiefs demand protection from prosecution before backing change in Zimbabwe Tracy McVeigh, chief reporter The Observer, Sunday September 7 2008 The South African President, Thabo Mbeki, greets government officials next to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe at Harare International airport in August. Photograph: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters Some of President Robert Mugabe's senior aides have had secret negotiations with South African mediators in an effort to secure amnesties from any future prosecution in return for supporting regime change in Zimbabwe. Army, police and secret service chiefs have repeatedly pledged loyalty to Mugabe in public and insisted that they would never 'salute' or support a government led by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who secured most votes in the presidential election that took place in March this year. But government sources in both Zimbabwe and South Africa have told The Observer that a senior army general and a Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) chief visited Pretoria last weekend to seek assurances from South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki that they would not be prosecuted in the event of Tsvangirai taking over. Mbeki is mediating in the power-sharing talks between Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party and the MDC, negotiations which appeared to be hanging by a thread last week with the MDC threatening to pull out and accusing Zanu-PF of a lack of commitment to dialogue. MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said his party's patience was being stretched to the limit after Mugabe told journalists in Zambia on Wednesday at the funeral of President Levy Mwanawasa that he would form a new government of national unity if Tsvangirai did not sign the document already agreed to during the talks. 'We feel frozen at the moment and if the MDC does not want to see the country move, then we will be left with no choice than to form a new government without them,' said Mugabe. Yesterday, however, the MDC backed away from its threat, insisting that it was still fully committed to dialogue. Robert Mugabe relies heavily on Zimbabwe's defence force chiefs, most of whom have been supporters of the ageing dictator since the 1970s war of independence and were heavily involved in conducting the murderous campaign of violence against MDC supporters and activists that erupted after the March election results were announced. Mbeki's spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said he knew nothing of any secret meetings and insisted power-sharing talks were continuing. 'You know quite well that we will never ever announce the contents of the talks through the press before making a feedback to the Zimbabwean community, Southern African Development Community and the African Union,' Ratshitanga told The Observer Sources close to the talks said the Zimbabwe defence forces' Lieutenant-General Constantine Chiwenga, police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, and CIO director-general Happyton Bonyongwe were at a private meeting in Pretoria. Behind the scenes, Zanu-PF'S politburo, including Mugabe, is said to be distancing itself from the violence that killed more than 120 people between the first round of voting and June's one-man presidential run-off poll, laying the blame on the army and the CIO. It is widely expected that, if there are any future trials for crimes against humanity, Mugabe will escape prosecution due to old age. Tsvangirai, who will tomorrow address the largest MDC rally to be held in Zimbabwe since the outbreak of violence to mark the ninth anniversary of his party, said in the course of an interview with The Observer earlier this year that he had no thirst for vengeance against the 'old man'. But Mugabe's powerful backers would need strong guarantees that an amnesty from prosecution, and even a possible future refuge outside Zimbawe, would be available to them if they are to distance themselves from the country's leader.