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The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"The government insists the unrest is only about land"
 real 28k

The BBC's Barnaby Mason reports
"An important unknown is whether President Mugabe actually wants an agreement"
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Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Police clampdown in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Warning
Land occupations and intimidation of farmers are strongly criticised by the UK
Zimbabwean police have invoked special powers to crack down on rising political violence by restricting the activities of political parties.

Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri said on Thursday that the provision allowed police to restrict the movement of party supporters and ban public gatherings that threaten law and order.

The announcement came as crucial talks began in London to try to end the country's political crisis.
UK land reform aid
$57m over 2 years if land occupations end and elections are held
Extra incentive: UK will mobilise international donors to help
Britain has given $70m since independence

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is meeting a delegation of ministers from Harare to discuss ways of ending farm seizures and political violence.

Commissioner Chihuri announced that police had invoked three sections of the Law and Order Maintenance Act - a 40-year-old piece of legislation introduced during the days of white minority rule to suppress black political activism.

"In short, it is illegal to ferry supporters to meetings, public gatherings or processions unless such events are being officiated by presidents of political parties," he said.


Opposition funeral
The death toll among opposition supporters is growing
BBC Harare correspondent Grant Ferrett says there was derisive laughter at the press conference when Mr Chihuri insisted that the ruling party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were equally to blame for the increasing level of violence.

Opposition supporters have borne the brunt of a campaign of intimidation by government activists.

After the news conference the police commissioner held heated discussions with party representatives. A leading opposition figure dismissed the meeting as a meaningless public relations exercise.

Hundreds of white-owned farms have been invaded by war veterans and government supporters in recent weeks. Ten people have died in the violence, the police commissioner said.

British intervention

At the talks in London, Britain is hoping to pressure the government in Harare to end land invasions and hold elections by offering aid for land reform.

Mr Cook says he is willing to provide $57m (36m) over two years to finance the transfer of land from white farmers to black Zimbabweans.



We are ready, we are willing to help, we always have been willing to help with land reform, but we are not going to appease

Robin Cook

But the money will only be made available if the occupation of white-owned farms ceases and Zimbabwe holds fair and free parliamentary elections.

Harare is demanding that Britain fund the compulsory purchase of land, and passed a law to that effect earlier this month.

"We are ready, we are willing to help, we always have been willing to help with land reform, but we are not going to appease," Mr Cook said.

"There will be no help unless there is an end to the occupations and a start on the elections."

President Mugabe has said the elections will be held in May, but there are increasing signs that they may be delayed.

Britain's 'obligation'

The Zimbabwean delegation is led by Local Government Minister John Nkomo, a close associate of President Mugabe. He is joined by Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge and Trade Minister Nathan Shamuyarira.

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, Mr Nkomo said that while ministers were open minded ahead of the meeting, they would accept no pre-conditions.

Mr Nkomo said that UK demands for a guarantee of an election could not be used to halt its obligation, as the former colonial ruler, to fund land reform.

Another Zimbabwean official has accused Britain of shifting its demands regarding the funding of land reform.

John Moyo of the Zanu-PF election committee said Britain had to take a constructive line.


President Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe sent the delegation
He said the UK had to realise that for Zimbabweans, the land reform issue was about rectifying a historical injustice.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason says the two sides seem far apart. An important unknown is whether President Mugabe actually wants an agreement, or whether it would suit his campaign to stay in power to continue to portray Britain as the enemy.

Evacuation plan denied

In a separate development, the UK has denied reports that it has devised plans for a military rapid response force to evacuate British citizens and other Europeans if the Zimbabwe crisis worsens.

The British Foreign Office admitted there was a contingency plan but it would not provide any details.

It described the report as "alarmist" and insisted that that many steps would be taken before Britain reached that stage.

There are fears that the violence could escalate further in the approach to elections.

On Wednesday, leaders of the opposition MDC warned they would defend themselves against attacks by government supporters after more of their supporters were killed in the political upheaval sweeping the country.

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See also:

22 Apr 00 | Africa
UK firm on land invasions
21 Apr 00 | Africa
Cook seeks Zimbabwe mediator
19 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Blair condemns Zimbabwe violence
18 Apr 00 | UK Politics
UK could take 20,000 Zimbabweans
26 Apr 00 | Africa
Opposition warning to Mugabe
26 Apr 00 | Africa
Journalist detained in Zimbabwe
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