African Union (AU) chairman Olusegun Obasanjo has appointed former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano as his "special representative" to Zimbabwe, according to official sources.
However, AU spokesman Adam Thiam was unable to provide details of Chissano's duties as a special envoy.
The official Zimbabwean daily, The Herald, reported on Wednesday that Chissano would mediate between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), but President Robert Mugabe, the ZANU-PF leader, had on Monday reportedly ruled out any possibility of talks with the MDC.
Mugabe dismissed the opposition as "stooges and puppets", and was quoted as saying that he would rather speak to "the principal", British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Analyst Chris Maroleng of the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies noted that "as Chissano's terms of reference were unclear, it is difficult to speculate what he would set out to do - we don't know whether it is a watching brief, or he would play an active role in trying to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe".
He said it was possible that Chissano had been appointed because Obasanjo had been unable to devote enough time to the Zimbabwean crisis.
The recent report by UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka on Zimbabwe's controversial Operation Murambatsvina (Drive Out Filth) recommended political dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition.
Unofficial talks between the ZANU-PF and the MDC have been 'on' and 'off' since the 2002 presidential election, which many poll observers rejected as flawed and marred by political violence. Earlier this year the clergy attempted to break the political impasse between the two parties, but failed.
South African media reported over the weekend that the resumption of talks with the MDC was one of the conditions attached to a loan package being offered to Zimbabwe by Thabo Mbeki's government. Reports claimed that the loan amount, between US $200 million and $500 million, included a payment of about $100 million to the International Momentary Fund (IMF) to prevent Zimbabwe's expulsion over arrears.
Joel Netshitenzhe, a South African government spokesman, labelled the reports as "speculative" and said negotiations were "ongoing".
He reiterated the government's reponse last week, which noted that the principles and considerations guiding the possibility of a loan would be Zimbabwe's "economic recovery" and "political normalisation".
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