On a game farm occupied by squatters outside Victoria, the leader of Zimbabwe's "veterans" movement, Chenjerai Hunzvi, said yesterday that he would not allow elections until the issue of land ownership had been resolved.
But at the first of what he said would be a series of conciliatory meetings between veterans and white farmers, he promised an end to violence in exchange for co-operation on plans to transfer white-owned land to blacks.
Mr Hunzvi's remarks represented the first public statement by the squatters' leader since last Friday, when regional leaders, led by the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, won assurances from Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, that he would resolve the crisis peacefully.
However, his remarks and more weekend violence cast doubt on how firm an agreement Mr Mbeki extracted from Mr Mugabe and whether the war veterans are willing to fully abide by it.
Mr Hunzvi declared that he was concerned only with land and had no interest in halting violence aimed at supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
A bomb exploded near the independent Daily News newspaper offices in Harare on Saturday and two more Harare-area farms were seized at the weekend. There were reports that another farmer had been taken hostage by a 200-strong mob in the Mvurwi region.
Mr Hunzvi said occupied farms would be evacuated only when progress was made on a resettlement programme, but later said all occupied farms would be resettled with blacks, starting within two weeks.
"Without correction of the land issue, there is no need to diffuse the violence," he said. "In America you had the Boston Tea Party and it was violent. Why do I care to defuse violence against MDC? I want to solve the land question," he said.
Mr Hunzvi, who is also on the central committee of the ruling Zanu-PF party, publicly urged white farmers to stop holding MDC meetings, support for which could "provoke" war veterans.
"You can never win against a war veteran. A fight against a war veteran is not like a fight against an army. It is a simple disappearance. We don't want such things," he said.
Earlier, he told squatters and white farmers that blacks and whites are all Zimbabweans and must share the land. Negotiations on a resettlement plan would begin on Friday at a meeting between himself, Mr Mugabe and the Commercial Farmers' Union.Reuse content