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Africa pushes white-farms deal

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Southern African leaders arriving in Zimbabwe plan to tell the Harare regime to accept a land reform deal before the country's troubles spill over into neighbouring countries.

Leaders from South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana arrived in the Zimbabwe capital on Monday for a two-day conference to discuss a Nigerian-brokered agreement struck last week between Commonwealth foreign ministers.

The deal will hopefully spell the end of the violent occupation of white-owned farms by self-styled black independence war veterans in Zimbabwe.

The government-endorsed land-grab policy has resulted in the deaths of nine farmers and the injury of hundreds of black farm workers during the past two years, damaging the economy and relations with its neighbours.

Many say low supply, high prices of food leave Zimbabwe heading toward disaster. CNN's Jeff Koinange reports (September 7)

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The land deal (edited text)  
Q&A: Land reform  
S. African fringe party warns of violence over land  
In depth: Farm crisis  
A brief outline of the Abuja communiqué:
- Zimbabwe will halt occupation of white-owned farms by landless black squatters.
- It will work to 'restore the rule of law to the process of land reform' and end the violence.
- In return, Britain and other countries will pay compensation to white farmers.
- The United Nations Development Programme will work with Zimbabwe's government to pursue the land reform policy.
- The government will also be committed to broader political reforms.
- These will include guaranteeing freedom of expression and pledging to 'to take firm action against violence and intimidation.'

The 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) has called for the meeting to hammer home to Zimbabwe the consequences on the whole region if it fails to accept the deal.

Bakili Muluzi, president of Malawi and chairman of the SADC, said in a prepared speech to be given at the summit, that regional stability was the prime concern.

The speech, obtained by Reuters, goes on to say: "Of great concern to all of us is that, if the land issue is not urgently resolved amicably and peacefully, the economic and political problems Zimbabwe is facing now could easily snowball across the entire southern African region.

"Our other major concern is that the current increasing political instability could create a negative image for critical direct foreign investment in the region."

He added: "To me, the problem lies in the way the government of Zimbabwe is trying to implement the land reform process and the principal of equitable land distribution.

"As of now we have started witnessing some negative consequences in our individual countries following the slowdown of the Zimbabwean economy.

"The deep and abiding interest which other nations and we share is the need for continued peace, stability and the economic welfare of the people of Zimbabwe."

Zimbabwe has agreed to halt occupation of white-owned farms by landless black squatters as well as work to "restore the rule of law to the process of land reform" and end the violence.

In return, Zimbabwe's former colonial-era ruler Britain, and other countries, will pay compensation to white farmers.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe endorsed the deal on Sunday, but said it still had to go through his Cabinet and ruling party politburo.

"But I don't see any hurdles between here and there," he said.

Will Zimbabwe's land deal end violence on the farms?

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He added: "I don't see these two authorities rejecting it really because it confirms what we have been doing and affirms our position and enables Britain to act as a partner."

Mugabe had been in Libya on a week-long visit when the Abuja deal was agreed in Nigeria.

The southern African leaders, including ministerial delegations from Angola and Tanzania, will meet Mugabe and his Cabinet, as well as white commercial farmers and war veterans.

Mugabe has argued that white farmers should not be able to hold on to the prime land, stolen by their ancestors, when the majority of blacks toil on poor soil.

Under the Abuja agreement, not all white-farmers will get their property back from illegal squatters. Only those illegal occupiers on farms that have not been "designated" for acquisition by the government will be removed

Mugabe's government has identified about 5,000 white-owned farms for acquisition -- at least 60 per cent of the 30 million acres that the government says is held by whites. Militants have occupied about 1,700 of them.

Despite the talks, violence was reported to have taken place both north and south of the capital.

Farm workers' homes were burned in the village of Beatrice, leaving more than 200 farm hands homeless, while in Chinhoyi-Mvurwi the Commercial Farmers' Union said militants had occupied white-owned properties and begun building huts and cutting down trees for firewood.

• The Commmonwealth
• Zimbabwe Government
• UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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