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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Cook warns Zimbabwe ahead of talks
Squatters kill cattle
War veterans are continuing to occupy farms
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has issued a fresh warning to the Zimbabwean government that farm occupations must stop if the UK is to help fund a programme of land reform.

His comments came as a delegation from the Zimbabwean government arrived in the UK for talks on the crisis.

President Mugabe
President Mugabe: Facing European criticism
Zimbabwean President President Robert Mugabe has sent his foreign minister, trade minister and local government minister to meet Mr Cook on Thursday.

In Zimbabwe itself, the leader of the opposition has said that his party would look for ways to defend itself from attacks by government supporters, saying that it "could not watch while its people are being brutally murdered".

"Britain is ready to help the government of Zimbabwe but we are not going to appease," said Mr Cook.

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

The foreign secretary said there would be 36m on the table to fund the transfer of land to poor black Zimbabweans.

But he insisted the violence of the last three weeks had to end if the money - originally agreed at a land reform conference two years ago - was to be released.

He also made clear that President Mugabe must stick to his pledge to hold free and fair elections in order for Mr Cook to take the lead in calling for a wider international effort including the United States and the European Commission.

"This could be the day when they put behind them the chaos of the last three weeks. But it is their choice and their responsibility," he stressed.

'No quick fixes'

"There will be no magic solutions [on Thursday]. We cannot offer quick fixes. The government of Zimbabwe must be willing to enter serious dialogue and take real practical steps."

"We are willing to work with them, but [Thursday] will prove whether they are willing to work with us."

The foreign secretary said he would stress to the Zimbabwean delegation that the land transfers had to be on the basis of a fair price for farmers and should benefit the poor, "not public officials with the right connections".

Mr Cook's remarks came as war veterans continued to occupy many white-owned farms in Zimbabwe and to kill and intimidate supporters of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr Cook invited President Mugabe to send a delegation to London after talks at a European-African summit in Cairo earlier this month.

The delegation is expected to press for a multi-million pound compensation package.

Speaking as he left Harare, John Nkomo, one of the three members of the delegation and chairman of Zimbabwe's ruling party, said that the delegation was going with an open mind but would not accept preconditions.

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

This was a dispute between the British and Zimbabwe and only the British could resolve it, he said.

"I expect our first meeting to be more of establishing or re-establishing Britain's position," he said.

"Thereafter, the two parties will determine the way forward."

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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
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