Reformers remind British of their moral duty to prevent civil war in Zimbabwe

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The Independent Online

Britain has a moral obligation to prevent civil war in Zimbabwe but neither sanctions through the European Union nor "incoherent statements'' from politicians will promote peaceful change, pro-democracy leaders in Harare said yesterday.

Urging British business and groups such as Amnesty International to involve themselves in a "constructive dialogue'' with Zimbabwe, Brian Kagoro, the spokesman for the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), suggested that an African mediator could be appointed to improve relations between both countries.

His call was supported by Margaret Dongo, the only independent MP in Zimbabwe's parliament, who criticised Britain, the former colonial power, for waiting 20 years, since the end of white rule, to speak out about President Robert Mugabe's poor handling of the land resettlement issue.

They spoke as Mr Mugabe went to a goodwill African-EU summit in Cairo with all guns blazing. "We are not a British colony any longer," Mr Mugabe told reporters, responding to British criticism of political violence in Harare. On Saturday, political tensions in the run-up to parliamentary elections exploded into violence when the NCA "peace march'' in the Zimbabwean capital was broken up by stone-throwing government loyalists. The main issue ahead of the elections, which may be delayed until July, are land rights in a country whose economy depends on high-yield commercial farms which are mainly white-owned.

Sanctions are expected to be on the agenda at a EU foreign ministers' meeting next Monday. Officials in Brussels have already asked the EU member states whether to freeze about £85m of aid and trade concessions to Zimbabwe.

Mr Kagoro, whose organisation campaigns for constitutional reform and multi-party democracy, said: "There will have to be compensation for land and evidently some of the resources would come from the British taxpayer. What happens depends on the extent of British interest.

"The Rhodesian issue polarised the debate around race. The land issue was always going to be a time bomb, and it will outlive Mugabe. We have heard incoherent statements from both sides. Britain needs to issue a coherent, well-reasoned statement about what it has done since independence and how it sees its role." Mr Kagoro suggested that pressure could be brought to bear on Mr Mugabe through the powerful Zimbabwe-British business community.

Mrs Dongo, a war veteran who launched her own party in 1998 after falling out with the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), said: "Sanctions will hit the poorest. What we need is constructive support for those who believe in a multi-party, coalition approach. Britain has supported this government. Mugabe was good for as long as they wanted to do business with him."