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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Zimbabwe welcomes farmers' offer
White farmer supporting Mugabe
Some farmers are now trying to work with Mugabe
The Zimbabwean Government has welcomed an offer by white farmers to hand over nearly a million hectares (2.4 million acres) of land for redistribution.

The statement came on the eve of a Commonwealth foreign ministers meeting called to discuss President Mugabe's controversial programme of farm take-overs, as well the violence that has accompanied it.

President Robert Mugabe
President Mugabe is away in Libya
However, it is not clear what effect the government reaction will have on the rest of the farms targeted for acquisition by the government.

The farmers' offer has been on the table since July but the authorities have been in no hurry to discuss it.

Zimbabwe's Vice-President Joseph Msika said: "Government welcomes the fact that some white commercial farmers appear to have turned a new leaf in their attitude towards the government's land reform programme."

"This means precious time will not be wasted in needless legal battles which only serve to polarise our society and cost us dearly through loss of production time."

Acting president

Mr Msika is Acting President while Robert Mugabe is in Libya.

In the past, he has made conciliatory suggestions concerning land reform while acting president only for them to be dismissed on Mr Mugabe's return.

As well as the land, the farmers have offered over $1 m to help the black settlers with infrastructure and agricultural inputs.

Black workers packing up
Many farm-workers have been left homeless by land reform

Most of the 531 farms now offered to the government were already listed for compulsory acquisition.

However, the owners have now agreed to stop their legal objections which will speed up the process of redistributing the land.

The government has described the initiative as "home grown" - a move which may be intended to stop international intervention.

Uncertain future

Analysts say the white farmers will be hoping that this offer will free up other properties which the government has targeted for acquisition.

Mr Msika made no mention of this and the government recently increased the amount of land it wants to redistribute to eight million hectares of farm land - around 70% of all white-owned land.

The previous target had been five million hectares.

The Commonwealth meeting in Nigeria hopes to focus on a wide range of issues which include the seizure of white-owned farmland in Zimbabwe, the intimidation of the opposition, judiciary and the media.

The Zimbabwe Government wants the agenda limited to his quarrel with Britain over the financing of land redistribution.

The BBC's Lewis Machipisa
"The government has already said that it is going to take land from white farmers whether they give it or not"
See also:

02 Aug 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe targets more white farms
25 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Gauging opinion in troubled Zimbabwe
16 Aug 01 | Africa
Diplomatic options over Zimbabwe
17 Aug 01 | Africa
Fleeing Zimbabwe for UK
29 Aug 01 | Africa
Fire hits Zimbabwe game park
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