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The UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
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Mack Crawford, Commercial Farmers Union, Zimbabwe
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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 05:46 GMT 06:46 UK
Zimbabwe crisis deepens

Protesters gathered outside the Foreign Office
Relations between Britain and Zimbabwe are at a low ebb after the countries failed to reach agreement on Britain's $57m (36m) aid package to fund land reform.

I made it crystal clear there would be no further talks until the end of occupations

Robin Cook
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said after eight hours of talks with Zimbabwean ministers that there could be no more discussions on funding until violence and the invasion of white-owned farms ceased.

He said: "The ball is now in their court ... I made it crystal clear there would be no further talks until the end of occupations. An end to the violence and the occupation of the farms is the essential next step."
Robin Cook
No compromise: Robin Cook

Following the break up of the talks, the Zimbabwean delegation is understood to be returning to Harare - where police have controversially announced sweeping powers to curb political activity.

On Thursday the delegation set out Zimbabwe's argument that Britain is obliged to pay up because the unfair distribution of land is a legacy of colonialism, rejecting what it saw as Britain's preconditions for aid.

But the talks ended with no agreement on an end to violence or a date for free and fair elections in the African country.
Nkomo: Heading back to Harare

Despite the stalemate, delegation leader, John Nkomo, denied the talks had failed. He said: "It is not a failure. We have broken the ice."

'Red herring'

The leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, said he welcomed the agreement between London and Harare on the central importance of land reform.

But he said Harare must recognise its responsibility to uphold the rule of law.

MDC secretary-general Professor Welshman Ncube said the issue of land aid had been a "red herring".
Verna Banda, the widow of an opposition activist murdered this week

He said: "It is fair and right for the British Government to be holding talks such as these. What we are uneasy about is the focus of these talks primarily on land.

"The focus should be the holding of free and fair elections. That's what is at the heart of the matter."

Evacuation plan

Amid fears of increasing violence in Zimbabwe, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon confirmed that contingency plans had been prepared to evacuate British passport holders.

He told BBC One's Question Time programme: "If circumstances deteriorated so badly, there are certainly contingency plans in place where we would want to help British passport holders to get to safety."

The Foreign Office later said these were not special arrangements but applied to 170 countries worldwide.

Police powers

In Harare Police commissioner Augustine Chihuri announced sweeping powers to curb political activity, a move opposition leaders see as a dangerous step to curtail their ability to campaign.

He said he would enforce a law that bans party officials' right to bus supporters to rallies unless the events are officiated by presidents of political parties.

Prof Ncube called for international monitors to go to Zimbabwe now, to prevent intimidation of voters and opposition party workers in the run-up to the elections.

'Freeze assets'

In the UK, Conservative shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude said that, following the failure of the discussions, the Government should freeze Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's overseas assets and begin moves to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth.

"Predictably, Robert Mugabe's men have refused to halt the violence. Robin Cook must now begin to speak with clarity and integrity on this issue," he said.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "The ball is now in Mr Mugabe's court. He set light to this fire - it is his responsibility to put it out."

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26 Apr 00 | Africa
Opposition warning to Mugabe
26 Apr 00 | Africa
Journalist detained in Zimbabwe
27 Apr 00 | Africa
Police clampdown in Zimbabwe
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