Farmers agree squatters can stay if violence ends

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's war veterans and commercial farmers claimed to have reached a deal yesterday that would stop the violence on white farms but not, as yet, their occupation, which is backed by President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF government.

Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi, the veterans' leader, said the occupations would not end until a redistribution programme, to be worked out between farmers and the "vets", had started. Nick Swaynepoel, leader of the farmers' delegation, said the foundation of a settlement was there and only details needed to be worked out.

The move came a day after Britain said it would give no money towards the programme until the violence that has racked Zimbabwe for three months ended and the squatters were called off the farms.

Last night Britain and the Commonwealth cautiously welcomed the deal. It was a "step in the right direction", a Foreign Office spokesman said, warning however that even "passive occupation" would not be helpful in reaching a durable settlement. The Commonwealth secretary general, Don McKinnon, added: "Seeing will obviously be believing. But I'm getting the messages we want to hear."

Stan Mudenge, Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister, confirmed that international observers would be able to monitor the coming elections. "The more the merrier," he said after talks with Mr McKinnon.

But Mr Hunzvi stressed he was not capitulating to Britain: "London is not meant to dictate terms to us. We are an independent state ... we are Zimbabweans and must deal with Zimbabwean issues." Mr Swaynepoel said he hoped all donor countries, including Britain, would take a look at what was on the table and then take part to try to make the plan work. Mr Hunzvi expressed the hope resettlement could take place before the elections, the run-up to which has caused much violence. It is not certain how a settlement of the land issue would affect the wider political violence perpetrated by Mr Mugabe's one-party state against the new opposition party, the Movement For Democratic Change (MDC).

Yesterday Obed Zilwane, the arrested South African Associated Press photographer, was told he may be charged with throwing or planting a bomb at the office of the opposition Daily News with the intention of destroying the building. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment. Mr Zilwane had been expected to be released without charge. His arrest is seen as an attempt to intimidate foreign journalists critical of the Mugabe regime. His lawyer, Jonathan Samkange, said the charge was "totally unwarranted" and that his client was being held illegally.

AP is demanding his immediate release. Yesterday 100 journalists protested outside the Zimbabwean embassy in Cape Town over an arrest that the South African Foreign Correspondents' Association has called outrageous.