UN mediate dialogue: ' Vigil could be held in four weeks'

By Wanga Gwede, Nyasa Times

Representatives of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Presidential Committee on Contact and Dialogue held a preliminary dialogue meeting on 16 August, 2011 at Capital Hotel facilitated by the United Nations representatives to explore modalities on dialogue following the presentation of a 20-point of concern petition to the Head of State on 20 July, 2011.

Civil rights groups want President Bingu wa Mutharika to declare his wealth, solve dollar and fuel shortages that have slammed the economy and restore diplomatic relations with the country’s former colonial masters and major aid donor, Britain.

But according to a joint communiqué issued after the first meeting, the parties agreed that t there was needed to develop common principles to guide the dialogue process.

“Mutual respect, transparency, confidentiality and integrity were some of the shared values that emerged from the meeting. This would include, inter alia, issuing of a Joint Communiqué after each session as the only means of communication to the nation as well as any other stakeholder. These would be outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding to be developed in due course. Both parties recognized that dialogue must be pursued for the common good of Malawi,” reads the statement issued.

Mutharika: Asked to address 20 point of concerns in the petition

The meeting also agreed that “a written roadmap should be developed to provide a framework for the forthcoming dialogue process.”

The joint communiqué said parties agreed that a Vigil could be held within a period of four weeks and   further resolved that the date may be reviewed in due course depending on the progress on the initiative on dialogue.

It said members agreed that the Presidential Committee on Contact and Dialogue is the negotiating team on behalf of government.

“It was agreed that each team will have a maximum number of 6 members,” it said.

The communiqué said it was agreed that the discussion should focus on the petition.

Vigils and demonstrations planned throughout the country for August 17 and 18 to commemorate those killed in July and raise concerns about the economy and human rights were indefinitely postponed by organizers on August 16 after a court issued an injunction banning them.

Organizers initially planned to proceed on August 17 and 18 but postponed the demonstrations when two street hawkers in Blantyre went to the high court to request an injunction against the demonstrations, arguing that it would affect their business

Mutharika earlier warned that he would not allow any further demonstrations, threatening to crush protestors.

But Michelle Kagari, international human rights group Amnesty International’s deputy programme director, said in a statement: “The Malawian authorities must allow people to express their opinions without fear of violent reprisals or arbitrary arrests.”

Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, has seen his country lose close to $1 billion in foreign aid due to rising tension with donors made worse by his government’s violent crackdown on the rallies.

Britain also suspended aid after Malawi expelled its ambassador during a diplomatic spat.

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