Blair: Peace must come before Britain aids Zimbabwe

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Britain was prepared to help with land reform in Zimbabwe "only if the violence and illegal occupations cease", the Prime Minister told the Commons.

Just before Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announced that the Government would refuse all arms export licence applications from the country as of today, Mr Blair reaffirmed its determination to link land reform to political progress.

"The situation in Zimbabwe is very serious indeed," the Prime Minister said at question time.

He cited Tuesday's statement by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group that the killing must stop and last week's negotiations as evidence of Britain's commitment to resolving the situation.

"We are prepared to help in this situation but only if the violence and illegal occupations cease.

"It is necessary, not just for the international community, but for this country in particular to make that absolutely clear."

The Government was "working at every single level of the international community to get that point across".

He added: "We will carry on doing so."

Mr Blair was responding to Tory former Foreign Office minister Sir Ray Whitney (Wycombe) who said it was not enough for the international community to "sit back until elections are held in Zimbabwe".

If the violence and intimidation continued the results of any election would be "meaningless", he claimed.