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Thursday, 20 April, 2000, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Analysis: Anyone for mediation?
Farm
War veterans are destroying white-owned farms
Diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason looks at the prospects for outside intervention in Zimbabwe's political crisis.

On the one hand, the crisis is an internal matter for Zimbabwe, as a UN spokesman said a few days ago.

On the other, President Robert Mugabe himself constantly tries to internationalise it by portraying the occupation of white-owned farmland as a continuation of the anti-colonial struggle.

One of the problems for the United Kingdom is to avoid playing the part of the enemy in a script Mr Mugabe has written to keep himself in power.

It is hampered by the fact that most news coverage by British and other Western media focuses on the plight of the besieged white farmers.

The UK Government does not want to be seen only as the champion of the whites. Ministers make the point that the breakdown of law and order threatens black Zimbabweans too, with attacks on farmworkers and violent intimidation of the political opposition.

Another awkward fact inhibiting action by the UK is that white domination of the best farmland in Zimbabwe is widely accepted as unjust - even by the UK Government.

So it continues to proclaim its willingness to help finance proper land redistribution, while condemning alleged abuses of the land reform programme in the past.

Row with Britain

A few weeks ago, a UK minister denounced the Zimbabwe authorities as uncivilised when they forced open crates sent to the UK's High Commission in Harare in defiance of diplomatic immunity.

That from the old imperialist was like a red rag to a bull. More recently, the UK has toned down its rhetoric in an effort to avoid inflaming the situation and provoking further violence.

Leaving aside the UK, there has been little in the way of public condemnation from the rest of the world.

The statements that have been made have come almost exclusively from predominantly-white countries.

The United States has now added its voice, deploring a general climate of lawlessness and President Mugabe's labelling of white farmers as the enemy.

US funding of land reform in Zimbabwe has been halted. But the issue is not high on Washington's agenda.

Pressure

The question then is what other instruments of international pressure are available.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have already suspended loans because of concern about mismanagement of the Zimbabwe economy.

The European Union has discussed suspending aid worth more than a $100m but has not acted so far, partly because it does not want to harm ordinary people in Zimbabwe.

Behind the scenes, the UK has been working intensively to persuade others, especially African leaders, to put pressure on Mr Mugabe.

Criticism from that quarter, even if not voiced publicly, is likely to have much greater impact.

The Organisation of African Unity is unlikely to play a significant role - throughout its existence it has, paradoxically, defended the concept of national sovereignty. But the leaders of Zimbabwe's neighbours have reason to be worried.

The implications for the prosperity and stability of southern Africa as a whole are potentially very serious.

The crisis is already beginning to affect the confidence of foreign investors in South Africa. Zimbabwe is an important market for South African business, and therefore a source of jobs.

Looking further ahead, more widespread disorder or even violent conflict in Zimbabwe could send refugees into South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique.

The example of forced land occupation in Zimbabwe might be emulated by black South Africans. This is a worst-case scenario, but it shows what the stakes are.

Outside African groupings, the Commonwealth is an obvious way of bringing pressure to bear.

A ministerial action group charged with monitoring serious violations of Commonwealth democratic principles is due to meet in London at the beginning of May.

There is some talk of sending an envoy to Zimbabwe.

But the Commonwealth is slow to act except in extreme cases. The ministerial group has confined itself up to now to dealing with military regimes.

Even Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth only when it executed human rights campaigners in the middle of a Commonwealth summit.

And as things are, the prospect of effective action by the United Nations is even more remote.

The Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has said that the conflict in Zimbabwe does have an effect on UN efforts to bring good governance to Africa.

But at this stage, he added, it was not an issue for the Security Council.

It is worth remembering that even the Rwanda genocide did not result in large-scale UN intervention.

For the moment, the UK Government is resisting pressure from the Conservative opposition for drastic action like the cutting-off of aid or the freezing of Zimbabwean assets abroad.

It is pinning its hopes on an expected visit to London by a Zimbabwe Government delegation, and on the persuasive abilities of African leaders.

For President Mugabe, though, control of the land is not the end of the matter - his hold on power is at stake.

His opponents say he is prepared to see Zimbabwe ruined in order to preserve it.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Robert Mugabe talks to the BBC
"You want me to set war veterans in the army against war veterans outside the army?"
The BBC's Grant Ferret reports
"There has been increasing concern among Zimbabwe's neighbours"
Matatha Tsedu, Star newspaper Johannesburg
"This is as a result of requests by the UK"

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19 Apr 00 | Media reports
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