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Cricketers will play in Zimbabwe

Mugabe has threatened retribution against Zimbabwe's white minority.

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LONDON, England -- The International Cricket Council has given Zimbabwe the green light to stage World Cup matches despite concerns over security in the troubled African nation.

An ICC factfinding delegation visited the country last month and decided it was safe to stage six World Cup group matches there next year, including England's game against Zimbabwe on February 13.

There had been concerns over security arrangements in Zimbabwe following international condemnation of President Robert Mugabe's policy of enforced redistribution of land previously owned by white farmers in 2000.

But the ICC were satisfied the safety of players from visiting countries -- which will also include Namibia, The Netherlands, Pakistan, India and world champions Australia -- could be guaranteed.

The England and Wales Cricket Board accepted the delegation's recommendation and said England would fulfil its commitment to play against Zimbabwe in Harare.

ECB chief executive Tim Lamb said: "The recent ICC fact-finding delegation to Zimbabwe were asked to examine whether or not it is safe and secure for our players to play in Zimbabwe.

"That was their only remit -- they were not asked to consider political factors. The ECB are not a political organisation and do not take decisions on that basis. Our primary concern is the safety and security of our players and management team."

Last Friday President Mugabe threatened retribution against the white population of Zimbabwe, suggesting they were working with Britain, the former colonial power, to sabotage his government.

Mugabe accused the British of leading an international campaign to isolate Zimbabwe and recruit support for his opponents inside his country.

The EU imposed a travel ban on Harare's leaders after Mugabe's re-election in March.

The move was made after EU observers called the polling fraudulent, but Mugabe said voting was free and fair and accused Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler Britain of promoting an EU vendetta against him.

In a separate move, the Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe from its meetings for 12 months in March but stopped short of full suspension

Once known as southern Africa's bread basket, Zimbabwe now faces acute food shortages. The World Food Program says at least 6.7 million Zimbabweans, more than half the population, will need emergency food aid in coming months to avert mass starvation.

Mugabe says the food crisis on a drought earlier this year, while most analysts blames political violence and disruptions in the agriculture-based economy during the government's programme to confiscate thousands of white-owned commercial farms that now lie virtually idle.

Last week Mugabe promised to enforce a widely abused government price freeze on most goods to slow record inflation, officially estimated at 144 percent but seen to be much higher.

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