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The BBC's Richard Lister
"A fairly comprehensive deal"
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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
UK cautious over Zimbabwe 'deal'
Political violence
Fears of political violence are still paramount
The Foreign Office has given a muted welcome to an agreement between squatters and farmers in Zimbabwe that could spell an end to the political violence.

On Friday Chenherai "Hitler" Hunzvi, leader of the National Liberation War Veterans Association, emerged from talks urging an end to attacks.

In an apparent breakthrough, the Commercial Farmers Union said that squatters would continue to occupy more than 1,000 white-owned farms but would not interfere in farmwork.

The makeshift agreement comes only hours after Foreign Secretary Robin Cook sought to cool the diplomatic crisis, dismissing opposition calls to freeze Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's assets.

Commenting on the latest development, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "Obviously if the violence were to be stopped on the ground that would be an obstacle removed to us supporting the land reform policy.

Warning of political violence
Warning of political violence
"But another obstacle is the occupations and that is something that also needs to be resolved."

Earlier on Friday, Mr Cook told the BBC that it was important to let the situation in Zimbabwe settle down.

"The last thing farmers in Zimbabwe want is to see the temperatures escalate."

Supporters of Mr Mugabe have invaded white farmers' land demanding its redistribution and have killed farmers and political opponents.

Talks between the Foreign Office and a Zimbabwean delegation to London broke down on Thursday with no further meetings planned.

Frozen assets

Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude has demanded Mr Mugabe's assets are frozen.

But Mr Cook said: "There is no legal power for us to freeze unilaterally the assets of any one individual because we have a diplomatic difficulty with them.

"For Britain to act illegally seems to me to be totally the wrong message to send to Zimbabwe when we are trying to get it to stop acting illegally."

At the conclusion of the latest batch of talks, farmers' union spokesman Nick Swanepoel said both parties had concurred that land redistribution was of "utmost importance" and could be solved by Zimbabweans.

Robin Cook during the talks
He said: "We have and we will come to a solution. We appeal to international donors to look at us carefully to come to the table and help us make this plan work."

During the crisis black Zimbabweans, calling themselves veterans of the war for independence, have invaded white-owned farms demanding the land is handed over for distribution to landless blacks.

The violence has so far claimed 12 lives.

A Foreign Office spokesman said contingency evacuation plans were in existence for about 170 countries.

Action to protect British passport holders could start with warnings against non-essential travel and be followed by advice, via the BBC World Service, to leave the country by civilian flights.

Only in the last resort would British troops be expected to become involved in an evacuation operation.

About 270,000 whites are resident in Zimbabwe and up to 25,000 have British nationality.

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See also:

28 Apr 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe crisis deepens
26 Apr 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe violence fears rise
27 Apr 00 | Africa
Police clampdown in Zimbabwe
17 Apr 00 | Africa
Farmer's widow wants justice
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