African Leaders Meet On Zimbabwe

Farm workers and families in Wedza, Zimbabwe, after being forced off land by pro-government militants.
Southern African leaders began talks in Zimbabwe on Monday with President Robert Mugabe on the country's land crisis a day after he endorsed a plan to end seizures of white-owned farms.

Officials said the presidents of Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique and foreign ministers from Angola, Nigeria and Tanzania had met Mugabe behind closed doors at a Harare hotel.

Before winding up their visit on Tuesday the leaders were also to hold talks with farmers, whose land has been targeted by the government for redistribution to landless blacks, as well as with business and church leaders and war veterans.

Zimbabwean officials said the five leaders were in Harare to Â"express solidarityÂ" with Mugabe on land reform but analysts expected the group to counsel the Zimbabwean leader to keep to the Abuja agreement reached on Thursday.

On Sunday, Mugabe endorsed the Nigerian-brokered deal intended to end the seizure of white-owned farms in exchange for funds to implement a fair, just land reform programme.

But he said the agreement needed the approval of the cabinet and the top policy-making body of his ZANU-PF party.

The visit is an initiative by the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help resolve the land standoff, which has raised fears among Zimbabwe's neighbours of a spillover effect that could scupper regional economic growth.

Zimbabwe has been in crisis since February last year when militants, led by veterans of the 1970s liberation war and encouraged by the state, began invading hundreds of white-owned farms across the country.

Mugabe says it is immoral for white farmers to occupy 70 percent of the country's best farmland while majority blacks are crowded on to barren lands. His government has targeted about 5,000 commercial farms for black resettlement.

Ziumbabwe's land chaos, in which nine white farmers have died and hundreds of black farm workers have been beaten, has deepened an economic recession now in its third year.

Mugabe, whose personal seal is crucial to the deal, said on Sunday he accepted the Abuja agreement in principle, but needed the approval of ZANU-PF's politburo and the cabinet.

Â"We accept it...but we need to go through processes. They are legal and political,Â" he told reporters in his first public reaction to the pact under which Britain pledged to help finance the land reform programme.

— Â"I don't see these two authorities (the politburo and cabinet) rejecting it really because it confirms what we have been doing and affirms our position and enables Britain to act as a partner,Â" he said.

Mugabe returned home early on Sunday after a week's Â"working holidayÂ" in Libya and received a briefing from Nigerian Foreign Minister Sule Lamido on the Abuja meeting.

That meeting was part of a Commonwealth effort to patch up relations between Zimbabwe and its former colonial ruler.

Professor Masipula Sithole, a leading political analyst, said he two-day SADC visit should bolster the Abuja agreement and add pressure on Mugabe to pursue a more reasonable program.

Â"This is not about solidarity, it is about international pressure from the neighbors who fear the effects of Zimbabwe's political crisis on their own countries,Â" he said.

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