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Cook offers Mugabe £36m for land reforms as two more die

By Mary Braid in Harare and Rupert Cornwell

27 April 2000

As Britain prepared to host crucial negotiations on the land crisis in Zimbabwe, the conflict yesterday threatened to spiral out of control, with the opposition warning of retaliation against followers of President Robert Mugabe.

The murders of three more activists for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) prompted the party's leader Morgan Tsvangirai to dramatically raise the ante by warning that it would take the violence "right to the doorstep" of government ministers.

The looming threat of civil conflict emerged as a senior Zimbabwean cabinet delegation prepared to travel to London for talks aimed at settling the land conflict. Britain said yesterday that it was ready to put up a further £36m for land reform over the next two years but only on condition that the current violence stops and free and fair elections are held.

"Britain is ready to help, but we are not going to appease," Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said. The choice was Zimbabwe's to make: "There can be no help unless there is an end to the farm occupations and a start to elections." Today's meeting in London is widely seen as something of a last chance for reversing Zimbabwe's rapid slide into anarchy. It comes after a wave of farm seizures, beatings and arson.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office last night denied reports in a German newspaper that British troops preparing to be deployed in to protect white Zimbabweans.

Last night, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa said Britain had to put up more money to end a crisis that could destabilise the entire region.

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Britain must pay is Harare's line
By Anton La Guardia

ZIMBABWE'S official view of the land crisis is simple. Can't Pay, Won't Pay, You Pay. The Zimbabwean ministers at today's London talks will inevitably give a history lesson that goes something like this:

"British colonial settlers took the land by force, and black Zimbabweans are entitled to reclaim their property by any means. If Britain wants its white children to be compensated for their loss, Britain must pay."

Before leaving for London, John Nkomo, leader of the Zimbabwean delegation, told The Telegraph that the violent invasions of white owned farms were just the "symptom" of the problem. The real cause is Tony Blair's refusal to accept the solemn commitment to pay for land made by his Tory predecessors, it is claimed.

Mr Nkomo said his team was going to London only to hear whether the British Government is ready to pay up. All other issues - such as government corruption, the allocation of land to cronies, violence on the farms, democracy, elections and the systematic intimidation of the opposition - are internal Zimbabwean matters to be solved by Zimbabweans.

Britain the coloniser cannot teach democracy to the colonised. But in Zimbabwe the obsession with colonialism is wearing very thin, especially among the growing number of young urban Zimbabweans who have known no other leader but President Robert Mugabe.

They are not interested in the history of colonialism, but in their future in independent Zimbabwe. The issue is not land, but jobs. But the greater the desperation of Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, the more militant its stand on land and whites. Land is the last refuge of a regime that has run out of ideas.

The farm squatters were unleashed after Mr Mugabe's defeat in a constitutional referendum in February, and are intended to prevent his defeat in a general election due by mid-August. The question facing British ministers is whether the Zimbabwean delegation is in London to solve the land question, or whether its brief is to keep stoking the fires of land grievances and conflict with Britain.

Many Zimbabwean ministers are aware of the damage that the anarchy is causing to the agricultural base of the economy and to the country's respectability. But the ministers sink or swim with Mr Mugabe and, despite their misgivings, are compelled to accept his strategy for political survival at any cost.

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Zimbabwe Opposition Fear New Police Powers 

Reuters - Apr 27 2000 1:59PM ET 

HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - Police in Zimbabwe said on Thursday they would crack down on rising political violence by using powers dating back to the era of white rule that the opposition said threatened free elections.

``We will maintain law and order,'' Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri told a news conference in Harare.

Opposition parties called the new powers ``draconian'' and said they jeopardized the chances for free and fair parliamentary elections due by August.

The police statement came as ministers began talks in London on President Robert Mugabe's demand that Britain pay for land he plans to take from white farmers for redistribution to blacks.

A British foreign office source said the talks had run into problems over the key issue of whether London should pay compensation before the violence ended.

The source said a scheduled 1500 GMT deadline for the talks to end was extended to allow negotiations to continue.

``We have reached a sticking point,'' the source said.

The source said Local Government and Housing Minister John Nkomo, who is leading the Zimbabwean team, was insisting the money should be paid before the violence connected with the land-grab issue died out.

In Harare, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rejected police allegations that his party should share the blame for the political violence.

``It is not correct to say both parties are fanning violence. It is only our supporters being killed,'' he told Reuters.


Chihuri said police had invoked three sections of the Law and Order Maintenance Act giving them power to restrict the movement of party supporters and ban public gatherings that threaten law and order.

The act was drafted in the 1960s and was used by Rhodesia's white minority government against black nationalist movements fighting for independence.

``In short, it is illegal to ferry supporters to meetings, public gatherings or processions unless such events are being officiated by presidents of political parties,'' Chihuri said.

``Abductions have to stop. Assaults have to stop. Intimidation has to stop and we are going to see to it that it stops,'' he said.

Tsvangirai said: ``Free an fair elections are impossible if parties cannot freely organize and move around the country.''

At least 14 people -- farmers, farm workers and opposition supporters -- have been killed over the past nine weeks as militant supporters of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party have invaded hundreds of white-owned farms.


Zimbabwe veterans' leader Chenjerai Hunzvi said his followers would remain on the farms until the issue of land redistribution was resolved.

``Our stance on land has not changed. We want the question resolved. We have pledged that our members end any violence and we are now discussing the way forward,'' Hunzvi told Reuters.

``When we are ready to move we will let you know,'' he said before talks with the Commercial Farmers' Union, which groups most of the country's mainly white 4,500 commercial farmers.

Tobacco sales remained low Thursday, the second day of the annual selling season, with fewer than 2,000 bales delivered. Farmers are withholding deliveries to protest against the farm invasions and press for the devaluation of the local currency.

Human rights lawyer Brian Kagoro condemned the police decision to reactivate the old laws and said they had failed to act against supporters of the ruling party.

``They are resorting to draconian laws because they have not been doing their work,'' Kagoro told Reuters.

Chihuri declined to comment when asked if police would intervene in the land crisis. Despite a court ruling ordering the eviction of the squatters, police have not acted and in some cases have looked on as farmers and their workers were attacked.

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S Africa Rand Falls to Record Low of 6.87 Per Dollar
Bloomberg News - Apr 27 2000 10:03AM  

Johannesburg, April 27 (Bloomberg) -- The South African rand slumped to a record low against the U.S. dollar, as a move by the European Central Bank to raise interest rates failed to boost the euro and concern persists over violence in neighboring Zimbabwe.

The rand fell as low as 6.870 per dollar from 6.809 late yesterday. The currency recently traded at 6.864 per dollar. The rand's previous record low of 6.860 was reached Aug. 28, 1998.  (Last week it was trading at 6.58 to the dollar.)

The rand weakened as the euro fell to a record low against the dollar after the European Central Bank raised interest rates a quarter of a percentage point to 3.75 percent in a bid to boost the flagging currency. The rand has been hurt recently by violence in Zimbabwe, which has led to an exodus of investors from the region.

``It was ripe to get hit,'' said Juliet Sampson, a currency strategist at Bank of America in London. ``It is still vulnerable, until Zimbabwe clears up and we have a turnaround in the euro. But there is value here and we could see some buyers come in.''

South African central bank and government officials have sought in recent weeks to ease concern over the rand's weakness against the dollar, pointing out that is has dropped less against the common currency of Europe, South Africa's largest trading partner. The rand has declined 10.3 percent against the dollar this year, compared to a 1.2 percent decline against the euro.

`Economy is Sound'

``I can't see that there are any changes in the fundamentals of our economy that warrant this,'' said South African Finance Department Director-General Maria Ramos. ``I think it has far more to do with what's happening to the dollar. The South African economy is sound.''

The failure of the ECB's rate move to immediately buoy the euro -- which the rand has moved in tandem with recently -- led investors to bet the rand would weaken further, traders said.

``It was dollar strength in this case,'' said Udo Raab, vice president of foreign exchange at Standard Americas in New York. The ECB's move to raise rates ``backfired on the euro,'' he said.

The specter of Zimbabwe is also hurting the rand. Today, U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said he was prepared to offer Zimbabwe as much as 58 million pounds ($92 million) if it makes a commitment to end violence in the country and hold democratic elections. Cook is meeting a delegation of Zimbabwean government ministers in London to try to settle disputes surrounding land reform and approaching elections.

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