Bid to rescue land deal in Zimbabwe

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The Independent Online

Cmmonwealth mediators began two days of talks in Harare hoping to salvage last month's deal to end the violent seizures of white-owned farms and political violence in Zimbabwe.

Officials from Britain and the Commonwealth planned to raise concerns over the Zimbabwean government's failure to curb violence since it signed an agreement calling for an immediate halt to illegal land occupations and the implementation of a workable land program. The deal, agreed on 6 September in Abuja, Nigeria, called for a transparent and democratic program consistent with the rule of law and observing human rights.

Zimbabwe's farming districts have been convulsed by chaos during the past 18 months, when members of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party began often violent occupations of 1,700 white-owned farms, demanding they be redistributed to the black majority. The government has since embarked on a plan to seize 5,000 farms – nearly all the farms owned by whites – without paying compensation, demanding payment from Britain. Britain and other donors have said they will only provide aid for land redistribution after law and order is restored.

Opening the talks in Harare, Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister, Stan Mudenge, disputed reports by white farmers that violence has continuedand new occupiers have settled in at least 688 properties since 6 September. The group led by the Nigerian Foreign, Minister Sule Lamido, and Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth secretary general will tour farming districts today.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office minister Baroness Amos met with Mr Mugabe in a meeting diplomats described as "predictable". There were differences over the interpretation of the Abuja deal, though Mr Mugabe did agree to allow the Commonwealth mediators to meet civic and human rights groups. (AP)