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Britain seeks support to end Zimbabwe violence

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook today asked the President of Mozambique to act as a go-between with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in a bid to end the tensions which have brought the African state to the brink of anarchy.

Joaquim Chissano was among top-level representatives of seven southern and central African states gathering at the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for a regional summit at which the recent spate of farm occupations is expected to be discussed.

Two farmers, some labourers and several members of Zimbabwe's opposition have been murdered, up to 1,000 farms occupied and dozens of families forced to abandon their homes since veterans of the country's liberation war began squatting on white-owned land in February.

Mr Cook, who is in Nepal, spoke to President Chissano by telephone and asked him to add his voice to those of other African leaders urging President Mugabe to restore the rule of law in his country.

He said that President Chissano - current president of the Southern African Development Community, which has been identified as a possible "honest broker" in the search for a solution to the issue - had responded positively to the suggestion.

But Zimbabwean officials arriving at Victoria Falls dismissed suggestions that their country's problems would be discussed at a summit scheduled to focus on the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Defence minister Moven Mahachi told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "We don't expect heads of state to come here to discuss internal matters of another country. There is nothing that warrants that at the moment.

"There is no chaos in the country, none whatsoever."

Mr Mahachi insisted that the farm occupations had involved only "petty violence" and compared them with the hooliganism that marred Leeds United's football match with Turkish team Galatasaray yesterday.

He said: "A few incidents of violence are found everywhere. There was violence yesterday when Leeds played a Turkish team - you can't say that England is in chaos. Yes, there was violence when some farms were destroyed, but you can't say in Zimbabwe there is chaos.

"There are people killed in South Africa every day. There have been more farmers killed in South Africa than the petty violence and two deaths we have experienced in Zimbabwe."

Mr Cook told the World at One: "I hope that President Chissano and his colleagues, when they meet President Mugabe, will warn him that what he is doing is not just damaging Zimbabwe but also threatens investment, standing and stability of countries around it.

"Much of the rest of Africa is concerned. Our strategy throughout has been to mobilise international opinion to pressurise President Mugabe to understand that he cannot ignore the rule of law without deep damage to his own country.

"We have been successful in mobilising international opinion through the UN, the EU, through my meeting with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and with the many contacts we have made with African leaders, who are speaking to President Mugabe.

"The message is certainly getting across to President Mugabe that many of the countries closest to him are deeply worried about the anarchy that is developing in Zimbabwe, are concerned that it could spread across the region and want it to come to an end."

Mr Cook reiterated Britain's willingness to provide financial support for a programme of land redistribution, provided that it takes place in an atmosphere of restored law and order, following free and fair elections, and that it benefits landless peasants, not cronies of the Mugabe regime.