- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe A wave of violent farm seizures that has included rapes and the murder of two white farmers continued yesterday, raising doubts about the government's willingness to accept a secret peace plan proposed last week by South African President Thabo Mbeke.
At least three farms were invaded yesterday in an area east of Harare, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported. It said a mob of about 150 people overran a farm here and tried to burn workers alive, beating them as they fled their burning homes.
Observers were startled on Friday when Mr. Mbeke and two other African leaders offered fulsome praise and support to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose backers are involved in the murderous land grab.
It is still far from clear that Mr. Mugabe is willing to deliver on his part of the arrangement, under which he would call off the farm seizures in exchange for public support from his African neighbors and their assistance in winning international financing.
Even since the weekend summit at Victoria Falls, there have been continued farm invasions, a bomb explosion in Harare and uncompromising remarks from the independence war veterans who have led the land seizures.
More than 1,000 white-owned farms have been illegally occupied in recent weeks in what opponents believe is a campaign to shore up Mr. Mugabe's flagging popularity ahead of national elections expected to be called in May.
Since April 15, squatters have killed two white farmers, both of whom had links to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Two other MDC members, both of them black, were killed in a firebomb attack on April 15.
Two white women were raped by a gang of government supporters last Tuesday after their small home was invaded, the London Daily Telegraph reported. The paper said a 25-year-old woman and her 18-year-old sister were bound and raped by two men each while the older woman's husband was held at knifepoint.
In Washington yesterday, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the United States was becoming increasingly disturbed by Mr. Mugabe's failure to halt the rampage.
"We're extremely disturbed by the fact that the Zimbabwe government still has not accepted its responsibility to uphold the law for all Zimbabweans," said Mr. Rubin, who called on Mr. Mugabe "to end the violence [and] implement court orders" for the eviction of the squatters.
Mr. Mbeki offered a deal to end the confrontations to Mr. Mugabe during the summit Friday, which was also attended by Namibian President Sam Nujoma and Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano.
While precise details are unknown, the plan called for the three southern African presidents to back Mr. Mugabe publicly and use their influence to win British and International Monetary Fund support for a land resettlement scheme.
In exchange, Mr. Mugabe would withdraw the squatters from commercial farms, halt the violence, restore the rule of law and permit free and fair parliamentary elections this year.
It is not known how Mr. Mugabe reacted, but at a subsequent news conference in Harare the visiting presidents praised their Zimbabwean counterpart as a champion of the rule of law.
Without mentioning the wave of killings and house burnings, they blamed the crisis on Britain and the United States for withdrawing financial pledges to fund land reform.
Mr. Mbeki's comments, which surprised many listeners, came amid increasing calls in South Africa for Mr. Mbeki to condemn Mr. Mugabe and end deliveries of fuel and electricity, which Zimbabwe can no longer pay for.
Mr. Mbeki's spokesman, Parks Mankahlana, said the president had sent a message to British Prime Minister Tony Blair saying the participants at the summit were convinced a new chapter had been opened and that speedy progress would be made in resolving the land issue.
To complete the deal, a trio of Zimbabwean ministers are scheduled to hold talks in London on Thursday.
The secret trade-offs were cautiously welcomed by Peter Hain, Britain's foreign office minister, who has been a strident critic of Mr. Mugabe and the farm invasions.
Mr. Hain said the statement in support of Mr. Mugabe had to be seen by reading the African tea leaves, not looking through a London telescope.
"If anyone expected them to come out and denounce Mr. Mugabe, they were extraordinarily ill-informed. That was never going to be the case," he told BBC Radio 4.
"What we have is the beginning of an African engagement, of the search for an African solution to an African problem within the rule of law."

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