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Tuesday, September 15, 1998 Published at 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK

World: Africa

Zimbabwe backtracks on land reform

Mugabe: 'Farmers' ancestors stole land'

Zimbabwe's government has reportedly removed 442 farms from a list of 1,500 mainly white-owned properties, which it plans to compulsorily acquire for its controversial land reforms.

Many were struck off because the land was too dry to be useful, according to the state run Herald newspaper.

Some farms have been removed from the list because their white owners agreed to go into partnerships with blacks or they had only one farm.

The government has taken other farms off the list because they already belonged to blacks, the Herald added.

[ image: Black farmers: Zimbabwe wants to hand them land]
Black farmers: Zimbabwe wants to hand them land
The action follows last week's land conference where international donors told President Robert Mugabe to scale back his scheme, protect property rights, focus on poverty and consult all those with a stake in the reforms.

Mr Mugabe argues that the farmers' British ancestors stole the land when they occupied the country in 1890 and named it Rhodesia.

His plan calls for the resettlement of 150,000 families on about five million hectares in five years.

Last year he threatened only to pay for infrastructure developments on the compulsorily acquired farms.

Outside influences rejected

Donors to the scheme have criticised the programme as too ambitious.

But the Herald said the changes had nothing to do with outside pressure.

The government, which is trying to raise Z$40 billion ($1.43 billion) for the plan, has warned that redistribution is vital to ensure social order.

Mr Mugabe says the country's 4,500 white commercial farmers occupy 48 % of the top arable land while millions of blacks are crammed into unproductive regions.

The farmers and international donors say they support land reform but want it to be based on agreements between sellers and buyers.

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