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Last Updated: Friday, 12 December, 2003, 12:54 GMT
'Commonwealth bias' angers Mbeki
Thabo Mbeki
South Africa tried to calm tensions
South African President Thabo Mbeki has said the Commonwealth's approach to the Zimbabwe crisis ignores the underlying issue - inequality in land ownership.

Mr Mbeki said summit leaders extended Zimbabwe's suspension because they were preoccupied with punishing the country.

He accused them of a biased approach to President Robert Mugabe's controversial policy of seizing white-owned farms.

This is the first reaction by Mr Mbeki, one Mr Mugabe's closest allies, to last week's Commonwealth decision.

Zimbabwe responded to delegates' criticism of its economic and human rights record by severing all ties with the 54-nation body of mostly former British colonies.

The land question has disappeared from the global discourse about Zimbabwe, except... to highlight the plight of former white landowners
President Mbeki

South Africa - which has mediated between the Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe, and his critics - had argued that bringing Zimbabwe back into the international fold was the best way of solving the crisis there.

Western view 'skewed'

President Mugabe has been widely criticised for his scheme to give land owned by white farmers to blacks.

Western leaders say Mr Mugabe's policy has precipitated a famine in a once-fertile region.

But Mr Mugabe says farmland had to be redistributed to correct colonial injustices.

Mr Mbeki says leaders at the Commonwealth ignored the land issue, or at best, had a skewed view of it.

"The land question has disappeared from the global discourse about Zimbabwe, except when it is mentioned to highlight the plight of former white landowners and attribute food shortages to it," said Mr Mbeki.

Howard attacked

Mr Mbeki made his remarks in a weekly letter to his party, the African National Congress (ANC).

He accused the European Union and the United Nations of backing out of a commitment to finance the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe.

Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, was also criticised for pursuing a hard line against Zimbabwe and dominating decision-making at the summit.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the body in 2002 after Commonwealth observers criticised the conduct of the election, won by Mr Mugabe.

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