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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 16:22 GMT
Neighbours back Mugabe
Violence associated with Zimbabwe's land reform programme is declining and the government is committed to holding free and fair elections, according to Southern African ministers.
The ministers also repeated their opposition to sanctions at the Southern African Development Community meeting in Angola's capital city, Luanda.
As the ministers were signing their statement, a farm manager was recovering in a Harare clinic after being slashed with a machete.
Duncan Cooke, 25, was attacked by a pro-government militant in northern Zimbabwe, says the Commercial Farmers' Union.
President Robert Mugabe slammed the US move as "repugnant, provocative, and indeed a gross violation of international law" in his state of the nation address to parliament on Tuesday.
He also called for presidential elections planned for next March to be free of the violence which has hit the country in the past two years.
"I wish to urge all Zimbabweans to maintain peace and calm as a norm of our society, and proceed to vote in the self-same atmosphere during the forthcoming presidential elections," he said. Also on Tuesday, South Africa's ruling party says it will send a delegation to Harare later this week to discuss land reform and the elections.
"We will make it known what we think of what is happening in Zimbabwe and what we think is out of tune," ANC spokeswoman Nomfanelo Kota told Reuters news agency. She would not elaborate.
The delegation will be led by ANC chairman Mosiuoa Lekota, who is also South Africa's defence minister, and secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe.
Recently, President Thabo Mbeki is reported to have lost patience with Zimbabwe and threatened to withdraw his support.
Earlier this year, SADC broke ranks with Zimbabwe and expressed concern that the economic crisis there would affect the whole region.
But last week, a delegation of foreign ministers in Harare said they opposed the sanctions being mooted by the US and the EU.
"Smart sanctions," such as a travel ban on Mr Mugabe and his closest associates and a freeze on any foreign assets they have, are being envisaged rather than a more general trade ban.
A draft statement from SADC noted that "violence on the farms had reduced significantly and that the few reported incidents were being dealt with under the criminal justice system."
The ministers also said that Zimbabwe was putting in place "mechanisms to guard against violence" in the presidential poll.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change is also sceptical that the presidential elections will be free and fair, saying that its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai is being harassed for political motives.
The man expected to pose the strongest-ever challenge to Mr Mugabe in next year's poll was detained twice last week for not possessing a licence for a walkie-talkie radio.
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