Nkomo ends exile hoping for unity talks

Joshua Nkomo, leader of the Zimbabwe opposition, has flown home after six months of self-imposed exile in London confident that he can arrange a political deal with Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.

Despite years of animosity between the two leaders, there is speculation that Nkomo's return may lead to attempts to bring tribal and racial peace to Zimbabwe.

Nkomo fled to London in March, claiming his life was threatened if he remained in Zimbabwe. At the time, the Zimbabwe government accused him of fomenting dissent and threatened to indict him on currency offenses.

But over the weekend the bulky leader of the minority Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) indicated that he and Mugabe had reached agreement on a formula for his return. Mr. Nkomo is widely regarded as the father of his country's independence.

Last week the Zimbabwe Parliament prepared to bar Nkomo from future sessions on the grounds that he had been absent too long. At the time, however, Nkomo and Mugabe were privately negotiating a deal whereby ZAPU and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) could agree on future power-sharing arrangements.

Nkomo, who claims to speak for the minority Ndebele people of Matabeleland, has apparently convinced the prime minister that only he is able to restore the tribal region to lasting peace. Violence in Matabeleland, widespread in the months before Nkomo's flight, has recently increased.

Nkomo is expected to attend Parliament in Harare on Wednesday.

Before leaving London, the opposition leader indicated that Mugabe would probably withdraw a motion to expel him from Parliament. Aides said any legal charges brought against him will probably be minor.

Nkomo did not claim that he had received assurances about his personal safety.

Nkomo's strategy since arriving in London has been to try to convince the Zimbabwe political establishment that no long-term settlement of tribal tensions will be possible without his presence and active support.

During his absence, ZANU officials tried to undermine Nkomo's support in Matabeleland, but observers say their success has been minimal.

There is much interest in whether Nkomo and Mugabe will eventually agree to a merger, or at least a cooperative agreement, between their two parties. Mugabe has said he wants the next Zimbabwe general election to be conducted on a single-party basis.

If Prime Minister Mugabe and Nkomo have agreed to any unity between ZANU and ZAPU, the opposition leader's reputation is likely to be crucial in ensuring that the Ndebele people accept the deal.

In Nkomo's absence, ZAPU has been led by deputy leader Josiah Chinamano. It is believed that Mugabe came to the conclusion that Chinamano lacked the authority to lead ZAPU into an agreement with ZANU.

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