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Sunday, August 29, 1999 Published at 01:39 GMT 02:39 UK

World: Africa

Mugabe: 'Compensate us for colonial rule'

The president calls colonialism an "international crime".

By Grant Ferrett in Harare

The Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, has said the country's proposed new constitution should include a demand for reparation for what he described as the international crime of colonialism.

Mr Mugabe was speaking at a meeting of the leadership of Zimbabwe's ruling party, Zanu PF, to draw up the party's own submission to the constitutional review commission.

Since Zimbabwe began the process of drawing up a new constitution three months ago, the government has been subjected to an outpouring of criticism.

Public debate

A nationwide series of public meetings which have been reported in the usually tightly controlled state-run media has highlighted appeals to limit the powers of the President, to reduce the number of cabinet ministers which currently stands at about 50, and to tackle corruption.

Those sitting on the constitutional commission say no-one has mentioned the issue of reparations from the former colonial power, Britain.

But Mr Mugabe has suggested that the new constitution should explicitly include a reference to colonialism as an international criminal offence for which reparations must be demanded.

One of the commissioners, who is not a member of the ruling party, has dismissed the idea as ridiculous. He accused Mr Mugabe of attempting to shift the blame for Zimbabwe's growing economic and social problems as it approaches 20 years of independence.

Land reform

The president also raised the controversial subject of the government's land reform programme.

[ image: White farmers own most of the best land]
White farmers own most of the best land
He called for the constitution to state emphatically the sovereign right of the people of Zimbabwe to the ownership of their land.

This apparent swipe at the 4,000 or so white farmers who own the majority of Zimbabwe's best farming land does have a wider appeal among the general population.

The constitutional review is due to be completed by late November.

If the President allows it to continue unhindered, the ruling party could well find itself going into to parliamentary elections next year with a constitution which amounts to an indictment of its two decades in office.

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