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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Zimbabwe deal: Mugabe's U-turn
So-called war veterans occupy a farm in Zimbabwe
It is not clear if squatters will be removed from farms
By BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

The agreement reached after Commonwealth talks in Nigeria on how to end the Zimbabwe crisis amount, on the face of it, to an abrupt about-turn by President Robert Mugabe.

In a document made available by officials in the Nigerian capital Abuja, the Zimbabwean Government promises to end illegal occupations of farmland and restore the rule of law to the land reform process.

In return, the UK has reaffirmed its commitment to provide money for the programme and has said it will encourage other donors to do the same.

Black workers packing up
Many farm workers have been left homeless
President Mugabe has consistently rejected criticism that the forcible occupations of white-owned farmland are in breach of the laws of Zimbabwe.

Now, his delegation has made a commitment to restore the rule of law - which implies it has been absent.

The government promises to take firm action against violence and intimidation, implying that it has condoned such abuses in the past.

Another commitment is to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Zimbabwe Constitution.

That goes wider than the land issue, since the intimidation of journalists is something Commonwealth Ministers have raised.

No opposition commitment

There seems to be nothing specific in the agreement about the use of violence against the Zimbabwe opposition, but the document does acknowledge that the crisis has wider political implications and that it poses a threat to the stability of the whole of southern Africa.

The agreement is the result of heavy pressure from Nigeria and from Zimbabwe's neighbours, who have become increasingly alarmed at the impact on them of the economic chaos, aggravated by the occupations of commercial farms.

President Robert Mugabe speaks at the UN
Mr Mugabe went back on a UN-sponsored deal
The UK has given less ground.

The promise to provide significant money for land reform is no more than a reaffirmation of previous commitments.

International funding will depend on a properly organised programme to be worked out with United Nations development officials - but the failure of a similar plan drawn up in 1998 is not a good omen.

There are other question marks too. Will Mr Mugabe endorse what his representatives have agreed to?

Even if he does, is this simply a temporary phase of conciliation to head off a row at next month's Commonwealth summit?

Mr Mugabe is fighting for his political life at presidential elections due in the next few months, and that is what will dictate events on the ground.

See also:

06 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Straw 'realistic' on Zimbabwe
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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