In a breakthrough in the Zimbabwe land wars, President Robert Mugabe expressed regret over the killing of a white farmer and promised to act to restore order as the country slips into chaos.
He is to meet war veterans' leaders this morning before tripartite peace talks, including white farmers, his spokesman said last night. The development opens the way for Mr Mugabe to call off land invasions, which have affected more than 1,000 commercial farms and claimed at least two lives, when he speaks to the nation in a television address tonight to mark 20 years of black rule.
George Charamba, the spokesman, said an initial meeting yesterday, called by the 76-year-old president with farmers' leaders, had been "amicable'' and represented "the beginning of the consultation process''.
Tim Henwood, president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, said: "I was pleasantly surprised by the meeting and found the president very easy to talk to. He expressed regret about the death of our member, David Stevens, at the weekend and gave us an undertaking to meet the veterans' leaders and get things working again.''
The breakthrough marks a radical shift in Mr Mugabe's mood. On Sunday, when he reaffirmed his support for the invasions, he appeared to emphasise his feeling that Britain and the international community were pushing him around. Now foreign observers will be hoping his speech tonight produces a date for delayed parliamentary elections.
The desire for peace is tied to the opening next week of the tobacco-auction floors, whose sales are expected to yield $340m (£212m), currency the ruling Zanu-PF needs to end fuel shortages and launch its election campaign.
Mr Henwood said the meeting lasted an hour and 40 minutes and was the first time the CFU had met the president since November 1997, when the government produced a list of 1,400 commercial farms it intended to acquire.
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