- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

The Senate is considering cutting off nonhumanitarian aid to Zimbabwe to promote a return to the rule of law after a series of government-inspired attacks on white farmers and opposition figures, said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.

The proposed legislation is "not about favoring any party, it's about restoring the rule of law," said Mr. Feingold, speaking last week at a subcommittee hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, proposed in response to the corrupt electoral practices of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, would prevent the resumption of nonhumanitarian aid to the country unless specific conditions were met regarding the rule of law and electoral practice.

Although Mr. Feingold, a co-sponsor of the bill, emphasized the impartiality of the legislation, a free and fair election undoubtedly would bolster the position of Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which won almost half the seats in parliamentary elections last year despite widespread intimidation and accusations of fraud.

Zimbabwe is experiencing its most devastating political and economic crisis since winning independence in 1980. Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC, speaking to reporters and editors at The Washington Times last week, denounced Mr. Mugabe as a tyrant who was leading Zimbabwe on a "suicidal" path to economic ruin.

Mr. Tsvangirai said the country's economy is expected to shrink by 10 percent this year and that Mr. Mugabe's land-grabbing policy is exacerbating the economic decline.

The Commercial Farmers Union in Zimbabwe announced late last week that the number of farms listed for nationalization has risen to approximately 4,500. Mr. Tsvangirai said the "farm invasions," in which ZANU-PF militants seize and occupy the listed farms, would lead to a poor harvest and a "critical shortage" of food.

Mr. Tsvangirai rejected descriptions of the invaders as "war veterans" and called them political "thugs" who are too young to have fought in the war of liberation in the 1970s.

Sixty percent of Zimbabwe's population is younger than 40, many too young to remember the struggle against white rule in the former Rhodesia. Mr. Tsvangirai attributes Mr. Mugabe's policies to a loss of credibility among the young. The political situation in Zimbabwe is increasingly repressive. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, on a recent trip to South Africa, characterized Mr. Mugabe's methods of keeping power as "totalitarian."

Furthermore, broadcasting is state-owned, and foreign journalists are under growing pressure to leave. A British journalist, David Blair, has been refused a renewal of his work permit and will have to leave.

Such incidents are no surprise to Mr. Tsvangirai, who said: "I have been the subject of harassment. But that is the nature of the game. That is why we fight against this tyranny."

Mr. Mugabe has agreed to a Commonwealth ministerial mission that would seek to address the land dispute. The mission, proposed by Nigeria, will consist of the foreign ministers of four African countries and three others, including Britain, and is scheduled to meet in South Africa next month.

Mr. Mugabe has consistently held that Britain, the former colonial power, should compensate any white farmers displaced by his land-redistribution scheme.

With presidential elections scheduled for early next year, the international community is eager to ensure that free and fair elections take place. Robert Rotberg, of the World Peace Foundation, urged Congress at last week's hearing to pass the aid-cutoff legislation quickly, calling for a "clear and assertive policy position."

• James Morrison contributed to this report.

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