Zimbabwe land plan attacked

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Britain said yesterday that it could not support a programme by President Robert Mugabe's government to seize some 1,500 white-owned farms and warned that the takeovers would harm Zimbabwe's international credibility.

The Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd said the programme failed to meet conditions that would allow Britain to contribute aid towards the resettlement of landless blacks on seized properties. He said Britain was also dismayed that some land already acquired by the state for resettlement lay idle long after it was vacated by owners.

Mr Lloyd said that Britain viewed seizures scheduled to start this year as breaching ownership rights, and they were unlikely to benefit the poor and were not being carried out transparently. He said one aim of his two-day visit was to show "there's no ambiguity in Britain's position" on land seizures.

Last November, Mr Mugabe's government released a list of mostly white- owned farms targeted for handover to landless peasants. It gave farmers a month to lodge appeals. Mr Mugabe said then that Britain, the colonial power before independence in 1980, should be the one to compensate "its children". But Mr Lloyd said yesterday: "Britain has no direct obligation in this area."

Farming leaders have predicted a 40 per cent drop in agricultural production if the takeovers begin after the harvesting ends in August. The government has said it will pay only for buildings and improvements on farms, not the land, arguing land was seized from peasants by white settlers.

About 4,000 white farmers own one-third of Zimbabwe's land, with 8 million peasants living on another third.

AP, Harare