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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
UK's Zimbabwe 'silence' under fire
A farmer supervises the return of some of his family's looted property
Many thousands of farms have been looted
The UK Government has been accused of "shameful silence" over human rights abuses in Zimbabwe by the opposition Conservative Party.

Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude says the government's attitude towards the "sickening" violence in the Commonwealth country, where white-owned land is being seized by pro-government supporters, makes a joke of its so-called "ethical foreign policy".

Five years ago Tony Blair made promises of an ethical foreign policy. What a joke!

Francis Maude
Shadow foreign secretary
The comments on Friday came as the High Court in Zimbabwe again postponed its decision on a bail application by 21 white farmers detained after they clashed with black land invaders.

The Foreign Office says it has repeatedly registered its concerns with the Zimbabwe Government and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will raise the issues again next month at a meeting in Nigeria.

'Sickening abuses'

Mr Maude made his attack after receiving an e-mail from Zimbabwe about the situation there, which he said showed government-sponsored activities against both blacks and whites were getting worse.

He claimed the Foreign Office had received the e-mail on Monday but done nothing about it.

"The accounts of human rights abuses in this e-mail are terrifying, sickening and horrific," said the shadow foreign secretary.

Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary
Straw is expected for talks in Nigeria next month
His party had long called for action to be taken against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's "henchmen", he continued.

"Now we learn that not only have our warnings and calls for action from (former Foreign Secretary) Robin Cook and Jack Straw fallen on deaf ears but they also appear to have ignored the crimes and abuses detailed in this e-mail...

"Five years ago Tony Blair made promises of an ethical foreign policy. What a joke! Their silence on Zimbabwe is shameful."

Mr Maude is pressing for the Commonwealth to suspend Zimbabwe and for travel bans on Mr Mugabe and his allies.

Concerns registered

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We were extremely concerned by the catalogue of human rights abuses contained in the report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum.

"The report provides further evidence of the government of Zimbabwe's blatant disregard for fundamental human rights.

We will continue to use every opportunity to make the concerns crystal clear to the government of Zimbabwe

Foreign Office spokesman
"We have repeatedly registered these concerns and together with our European Union and Commonwealth partners will continue to use every opportunity to make the concerns crystal clear to the government of Zimbabwe.

"These issues will be raised in September when the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, meets foreign ministers from other Commonwealth countries in Nigeria."

Talks ahead

Those talks come ahead of the crucial Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Australia in October.

A Foreign Office spokesman told BBC News Online earlier this week: "This is an initiative whereby a group of Commonwealth foreign ministers could have a meeting with the foreign minister of Zimbabwe to talk about issues of concern."

He said land reform would be on the agenda but the political and economical context for the controversial issue would also need to be discussed.

On Friday, the High Court in Zimbabwe again postponed a decision on whether to release on bail twenty-one white farmers, charged with inciting public violence.

The ruling is now expected on Monday. The farmers were arrested last week after clashes with pro-government supporters on white-owned land being occupied by self-styled war veterans.

See also:

17 Aug 01 | Africa
Fleeing Zimbabwe for UK
16 Aug 01 | Africa
Airlift plan for Zimbabwe Britons
16 Aug 01 | Africa
Diplomatic options over Zimbabwe
14 Aug 01 | Africa
Fleeing Zimbabwe violence
14 Aug 01 | Cricket
England tour in doubt
02 Aug 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe targets more white farms
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