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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 00:05 GMT 01:05 UK
Zimbabwe land reform breakthrough
US activists in Durban South Africa protest in favour of land reform in Zimbabwe
President Mugabe's supporters demand land reform
The government in Zimbabwe has agreed to take sweeping measures to curb the occupation of white-owned farms and violence against farmers and their workers.

Zimbabwe agrees:
No further occupations of white-owned farms
To restore the rule of law to the process of land reform
To the principle of freedom of expression
To take firm action against violence and intimidation
A statement released after a Commonwealth foreign ministers meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, announced that in return, Zimbabwe would receive funding for its land redistribution programme.

The statement said that President Robert Mugabe's government agreed to observe the rule of law when redistributing land from white farmers to landless black Zimbabweans.

The Nigerian foreign minister hailed the agreement as a "breakthrough", but UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: "Ultimately, whether it represents real progress will depend on events on the ground and that can only be judged in the future."

Zimbabwe has also agreed to allow close monitoring of the human rights situation in the country, and of its presidential election, due for next year.

President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe must face the electorate next year
In addition, it said it would safeguard freedom of expression and the press. Zimbabwe has expelled a number of foreign correspondents, and local journalists have complained of intimidation.

A BBC correspondent, Grant Ferrett, says that if such conditions were to be met, it would represent a complete climbdown by President Mugabe's government after more than 18 months of confrontation and turmoil.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is expected to issue the conference communiqué formally on Friday.

Before the agreement was reached, Nigeria's foreign minister had made it clear that Zimbabwe's neighbours were becoming increasingly concerned as the 18-month crisis continues.

"Africa cannot afford another war, not least a racial war or one with racial undertones," said Sule Lamido.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Sule Lamido shares a laugh with UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Nigerian and UK intervention proved crucial
"The signals coming from the crisis in Zimbabwe cannot and should not be ignored," he said.

Until now, the issue of land reform in Zimbabwe has been regarded by other African nations as largely an internal matter.

Mr Mugabe and his government have been happy to keep it that way, accusing the former colonial power, Britain, of meddling in its affairs and of failing to pay reparations for land taken during colonial times.

Correspondents say the increasing political instability in Zimbabwe, along with rising unemployment and food shortages, is creating acute problems.

The worry now is that the instability could spread across Africa and sour the climate for critical foreign investment.

It is in this light that the Nigerian Government took the significant step of bringing Zimbabwe, Britain and other Commonwealth members together ahead of October's Commonwealth heads of government summit in Brisbane, Australia.

Sanctions call

Meanwhile in Brussels, the European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe's Government.

Legislators urged the 15 European Union member states to freeze the foreign assets and impose a travel ban on President Mugabe and his associates.

The resolution said Mr Mugabe's policies had created "a climate of fear and despair" in the country.

The BBC's Rageh Omaar reports from Abuja
"This agreement represents a key turning point"
The BBC's James Robbins
looks at the background to the deal
The BBC's Dan Isaacs
""Nobody... expected such a smooth transition to a deal"
See also:

06 Sep 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe deal: Mugabe's U-turn
05 Sep 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe welcomes farmers' offer
25 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Gauging opinion in troubled Zimbabwe
17 Aug 01 | Africa
Fleeing Zimbabwe for UK
16 Aug 01 | Africa
Diplomatic options over Zimbabwe
02 Aug 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe targets more white farms
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