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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 09:33 GMT
'Readmit Zimbabwe' to Commonwealth
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, and President  Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria
The "troika" cannot agree on the way ahead
Zimbabwe should be readmitted as a full member of the Commonwealth, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has said.

Both President Obasanjo and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki - who are part of the organisation's "troika" dealing with Zimbabwe - say Harare's one-year suspension should not be extended when it ends in March.

Zimbabwe should be helped to get over its own difficulties

President Obasanjo of Nigeria
President Obasanjo told the BBC that human rights abuses connected with land reform had largely ended and Zimbabwe now needed help to resolve its problems.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Australian Prime Minister John Howard - the third member of the troika - have called for full expulsion because of human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

Mrs Clark said the situation in Zimbabwe had worsened and she accused South Africa and Nigeria of offering "almost blind support" to Mr Mugabe.

'No compensation yet'

But Mr Obasanjo told the BBC that most of these abuses had been connected with the controversial seizures of white-owned land - which he said ended last year.

In an interview with the BBC's World Today programme, he acknowledged that President Robert Mugabe's land policies were open to criticism - but he praised the Zimbabwean leader for addressing the issue.

'War veterans' outside a white-owned farm
Mugabe's supporters have been occupying farms

"The [Zimbabwean] Government would be irresponsible if it did not do something about land redistribution," he said.

"And during a massive land redistribution we should expect a certain amount of disruption before things come back to normal."

He noted that President Mugabe had promised to compensate white farmers for improvement they had made to the land.

But Colin Cloete, president of the Commercial Farmers' Union told BBC News Online that no farmer had yet received any money.

He also said that illegal land invasions were continuing.

Around 600 white farmers remain on the land, out of the 4,000 three years ago.

"Zimbabwe should be helped to get over its own difficulties," President Obasanjo said.

'Quiet diplomacy'

Meanwhile, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa said the solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe lay in the hands of its own people - not outsiders.

In an interview broadcast by SABC television he said that his behind-the-scenes contacts with Mr Mugabe's government were yielding results.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe was sanctioned after Mugabe's re-election
"Over all this long period we've raised concerns about a whole variety of matters with Zimbabwe," he said.

Mr Mbeki said that following Pretoria's "quiet diplomacy", Zimbabwe had agreed that changes were needed to laws relating to press freedom and democracy.

Last March, the Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe from its councils for a year, following Mr Mugabe's controversial re-election.

At the time, the Commonwealth said the poll was "carried out in an atmosphere of intimidation" and "did not reflect the views of the Zimbabwean people".

The next Commonwealth summit is due to discuss whether Harare should be re-admitted as a full member.

But there is now a deep rift on Zimbabwe - and both sides appear to be in little mood for compromise.

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Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
"Zimbabwe should be helped"

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 VOTE RESULTS
Should Zimbabwe be readmitted to the Commonwealth?

Yes
 20.68% 

No
 79.32% 

20309 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

17 Feb 03 | Africa
08 Aug 02 | Africa
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