Cook offers Mugabe £36m for land reforms as two more die

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The Independent Online

As Britain prepared to host crucial negotiations on the land crisis in Zimbabwe, the conflict yesterday threatened to spiral out of control, with the opposition warning of retaliation against followers of President Robert Mugabe.

The murders of three more activists for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) prompted the party's leader Morgan Tsvangirai to dramatically raise the ante by warning that it would take the violence "right to the doorstep" of government ministers.

The looming threat of civil conflict emerged as a senior Zimbabwean cabinet delegation prepared to travel to London for talks aimed at settling the land conflict. Britain said yesterday that it was ready to put up a further £36m for land reform over the next two years - but only on condition that the current violence stops and free and fair elections are held.

"Britain is ready to help, but we are not going to appease," Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said. The choice was Zimbabwe's to make: "There can be no help unless there is an end to the farm occupations and a start to elections." Today's meeting in London is widely seen as something of a last chance for reversing Zimbabwe's rapid slide into anarchy. It comes after a wave of farm seizures, beatings and arson.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office last night denied reports in a German newspaper that British troops preparing to be deployed in to protect white Zimbabweans.

Last night, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa said Britain had to put up more money to end a crisis that could destabilise the entire region.