- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

A racist bill?

A bill that would punish Zimbabwe is "unfair, unjust and racially motivated" because it would support white farmers fighting efforts to redistribute land to poor blacks, Zimbabwe´s ambassador said yesterday.

Ambassador Simbi Veke Mubako told editors and reporters at a luncheon interview at The Washington Times that he hopes President Bush would use authority under the bill to waive sanctions if the measure becomes law.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Tennessee Republican Bill Frist and Wisconsin Democrat Russell D. Feingold, would require the administration to halt all aid and oppose any international loans to Zimbabwe.

"My government believes it is an attempt to show some support for white farmers," Mr. Mubako said. "It is unfair, unjust and racially motivated."

Mr. Frist is supporting democracy "for all the people of Zimbabwe" with his bill, said spokeswoman Margaret Camp.

"The government of Zimbabwe is a brutal, totalitarian regime that has invaded and seized private farms only to hand them over to President Mugabe´s cronies," she said.

Zimbabwe is facing a political and economic crisis that has been most dramatically illustrated by the large-scale invasions of white farms by landless blacks over the past 12 months.

Legal analysts fear for the future of the judicial system following the resignation of the country´s chief judge. Business leaders warn of the total collapse of the economy with attacks on industry by militants supporting Mr. Mugabe´s ruling party.

Mr. Mubako dismissed those fears as an overreaction to the land grabs by thousands of squatters.

"It is very difficult for us to get the true picture to be heard," he said. "The truth is on the political scene; there is a strong opposition, which is a good development for democracy."

Mr. Mubako accused the media of telling only one side of the story.

Mr. Mugabe has announced he will run for another term as president and probably will win because of his broad support in the countryside, Mr. Mubako said.

"The main reason for his popularity is the land question. The people feel the basic policy is right. It is the land we fought for. It is our land," he said.

Mr. Mubako said Zimbabwe is working with the United Nations on a proposal for the redistribution of land, an issue that has plagued the government since its independence from Britain in 1980.

The proposal by the U.N. Development Program would compensate the farmers for the confiscation of their land. Zimbabwe also would pay farmers for improvements made since independence. The government wants to relocate about 150,000 families on about 12 million acres of land, about half the amount owned by white farmers.

Mr. Mubako said Zimbabwe has support among members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who believe the Frist-Feingold bill would impose "unfair treatment on a black government."

"We have some problems," he said, "but we are certainly not the worst government the U.S. deals with."

Zimbabwe´s problems were highlighted again on Monday when an international legal panel released the results of an investigation of the country´s judicial system.

The International Bar Association team warned that Zimbabwe´s legal system is "in the gravest peril" because the government has ignored court rulings in favor of the farmers.

The government has "put the very fabric of democracy in Zimbabwe at risk."

Mr. Mubako, himself a former judge and justice minister, dismissed the report as an "exaggeration."

Working with Bulgaria

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov yesterday discussed cooperation in the Balkans and Bulgaria´s desire to join NATO.

Mr. Powell told reporters, "We talked about stability in the Balkans and how we can work together, the territorial integrity of Macedonia and concerns about other parts of the Balkans."

Bulgaria has sold arms to Macedonia to help its neighboring Balkan country deal with ethnic Albanian rebels.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker later said, "The meeting included discussion on the progress Bulgaria is making on meeting NATO requirements."

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