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Report: Zimbabwe to halt land grab

Dozens of white farms have been destroyed since Mugabe embarked on his land redistribution programme.
There have been calls for Zimbabwe to be expelled from the Commonwealth because of President Robert Mugabe's controversial land reform programme  

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Zimbabwe has agreed to halt all occupations of white-owned farms, according to reports from a Commonwealth conference.

Reuters reported on Thursday that a communique said Zimbabwe's delegation had given assurances occupations of farmland would stop, the rule of law would be restored to land reform and action would be taken against violence and intimidation.

The southern African country has slipped into crisis in the past 18 months as self-styled nationalist war veterans backed by President Robert Mugabe's government have occupied farms.

The government backs the land invasions, saying it is immoral for whites to own the bulk of prime farmland while majority blacks are crammed into unproductive areas.

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Nine white farmers have been killed and hundreds assaulted in the takeovers. Thousands of people have left their homes because of the violence in the countryside.

Mugabe's government has identified about 5,000 white-owned farms for acquisition, two-thirds of the 30 million acres the government says is held by whites. Earlier, on Thursday Nigeria's foreign minister said Commonwealth ministers had achieved a "breakthrough" in Zimbabwe's land seizure crisis.

"Yes, there is an agreement," Lamido told reporters. "There has been a total breakthrough."

The communique said the meeting agreed that the way forward was for Zimbabwe's international partners "to engage constructively with the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and the government of Zimbabwe in pursuing an effective and sustainable land reform programme on the basis of the UNDP proposal of December 2000."

The communique also asked the international community to "respond positively to any request from the government of Zimbabwe in support of the electoral process."

"The meeting also welcomed the reaffirmation of the United Kingdom's commitment to a significant financial contribution to such a land reform programme and its undertaking to encourage other international donors to do the same."

Conference sources said Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had been instrumental in bringing the Zimbabwe delegation back to the table earlier in the day.

Sources earlier said a Zimbabwe land reform plan prepared by the United Nations in the late 1990s could be revived as a framework for solving the crisis.

Delegates said Zimbabwe's government, facing increasing international isolation, seemed to have dropped its initial opposition to the U.N. plan.

One source told Reuters news agency that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, heading a powerful government delegation, voiced his country's willingness to put money into a fund administered by the UNDP to compensate white farmers for seized land.

"Provided we have the right framework, a certain amount of money will come from the UK and we'll encourage others to contribute," the source quoted Straw as saying.

Lamido confirmed to Reuters that the UNDP framework was before the conference.

"We already have a framework prepared by the UNDP and authorised by (U.N. Secretary General) Kofi Annan," Lamido said. "Through this Britain and other agencies would put up money for the land compensation."

The meeting of seven Commonwealth foreign ministers -- from Nigeria, Britain, Zimbabwe, Australia, Kenya, Jamaica and South Africa -- is being chaired by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

It comes ahead of a special southern Africa mini-conference in Zimbabwe next Monday, and a full Commonwealth heads-of-government summit in Brisbane in October.

• Zimbabwe Government

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