Talks over Zimbabwe land grabs collapse in deadlock

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The Independent Online

Talks between white farmers and the Zimbabwean government over land seizures and lawlessness on farms have collapsed in deadlock, both sides said yesterday.

Adrian de Bourbon, the lawyer for the Commercial Farmers Union, said a meeting late on Monday with Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice Minister, had made no progress. Officials at the union, which represents 4,000 white farmers, hoped to discuss with Mr Chinamasa efforts to implement a deal brokered earlier this month by mediators in Abuja, Nigeria, to end violence and restore the rule of law.

Mr de Bourbon told the Supreme Court in Harare: "In light of the attitude of the Minister of Justice, it is regretted no progress was made at all."

The court had adjourned a hearing on Friday in which the government sought to overturn a ruling in December last year that its programme to seize white-owned farmland for redistribution to landless blacks was illegal. The court had asked both sides to hold talks on the Abuja deal, reached on 6 September, as a way of resolving their differences and possibly to soften the acrimonious legal case involving the government's plan to seize 4,500 farms.

The State Attorney, Bharat Patel, said yesterday he had hoped that would happen but added, "it seems there is a divide that cannot be bridged".

The deal, put together by ministers of the Commonwealth of Britain and its former territories, called for law and order to be restored in farming districts in return for aid from Britain and other donors.

President Robert Mugabe had promised to abide by the accord, but others doubted whether he could rein in violence by the ruling Zanu-PF party militants, who have illegally occupied 1,700 white-owned farms since March 2000.

Two weeks after Abuja, militants' intimidation of farm labourers had led to a shutdown of about 500 white-owned farms. The union said that thousands of farm workers had been driven from their homes and a further 21 properties had been occupied by militants.

Mr Mugabe, who left on Tuesday for a trip to Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam before a Commonwealth summit in Brisbane, Australia, on 6 October, is expected to be asked to report to Commonwealth leaders on his compliance with the land agreement.