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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Straw 'realistic' on Zimbabwe
Jack Straw
Mr Straw says Mr Mugabe's tactics are about retaining power
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said he intends to take a constructive approach to talks aimed at finding a solution to Zimbabwe's land reform crisis but remains "realistic" about the chances of any solution.

There is a need for land redistribution but it must be handled differently without violence

Jack Straw
Speaking from Abuja, Nigeria, ahead of high-level discussions between Zimbabwean ministers and other Commonwealth colleagues, Mr Straw acknowledged that the current situation is extremely difficult.

He said he intended to focus on solutions rather than personalities, although he acknowledged that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's tactics over the land reform issue were largely about clinging to power.

"The situation in Zimbabwe is an extremely difficult one and we know that so I've come here with realistic expectations but also with the idea that we also have to try to be constructive," he told the BBC.

Interests of all

"My essential text is that of [South African President] Thabo Mbeki who said that there is a need for land redistribution but it must be handled differently without violence, without conflict within the context of the law bearing in mind the interests of all Zimbabweans both black and white.

Jack Straw
Mr Straw hopes progress can be made
"That seems to me to be a very good starting point for all these discussions."

On Wednesday, shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude added his voice to a growing calls for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth.

It has also been revealed that moves have begun in the European parliament to impose "smart sanctions" on Zimbabwe which would apply only to the country's rulers.

Welsh MEP Glenys Kinnock said: "These smart sanctions are important because they don't have a direct impact on poor people but just on the elites of countries."

She suggested there was a growing appetite in some EU countries, such as Denmark and Germany, for tougher action, perhaps even full sanctions, if the current round of initiatives failed.

Mr Straw refused to be drawn on the issue except to say the moves in the EU showed the international nature of concern about events in Zimbabwe, but he added that his approach to the talks remained constructive.

Robert Mugabe
Mr Mugabe has remained defiant under Commonwealth pressure
"We made it clear that we were not prepared to take part in these discussions unless there was an open agenda and if you think about the issue of land of course land is hugely important everywhere.

"It is the fundamental basis of most wealth, particularly in a continent like Africa, but you can't divide issues of land from the law."

Heavy criticism

Mr Mugabe has been heavily criticised as having encouraged the recent wave of violence against white farmers and opposition politicians.

The leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, has called for a tougher line against his country's government.

Earlier this week Morgan Tsvangira said: "All international organisations, including the Commonwealth, have to take a tough stand because the man has violated all the tenets of all these organisations ... He should be isolated."

But Commonwealth secretary general Don McKinnon said it was important to keep talking to Mr Mugabe.

The meeting in Nigeria is the first opportunity to get seven Commonwealth ministers together to discuss the issue with Zimbabwe's foreign minister and his colleagues.

Next month the Commonwealth's heads of government are due to meet in Brisbane, Australia - and the issue of whether Mr Mugabe should be allowed to attend remains contentious.

See also:

21 Aug 01 | Africa
No Commonwealth ban for Mugabe
22 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Zimbabwe 'not just UK issue' - Straw
09 Apr 00 | Africa
Tories attack Zimbabwe land grab
11 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Mugabe is 'ethnic cleansing'
03 May 00 | UK Politics
UK imposes Zimbabwe arms ban
05 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Straw flies to Zimbabwe talks
06 Sep 01 | Africa
Commonwealth to debate Zimbabwe
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