- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

ABUJA, Nigeria — Britain and its former colonies pushed a deal yesterday to end violent conflicts over white-owned farms in Zimbabwe, offering to fund land reform in the southern African nation themselves, diplomats said.
After hours of increasing anticipation of an imminent breakthrough in Zimbabwe's conflict, the talks by foreign ministers in the British Commonwealth broke up last night in Nigerian capital Abuja with no deal announced. The conflict has lasted more than a year.
Participants said Zimbabwe had agreed to a plan in which Britain and other countries would compensate white farmers for their land.
Zimbabwe, in return, would agree to political and other reforms, including letting in human rights and election monitors, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
British Broadcasting Corp. reported that the proposal would commit Zimbabwe to no further occupations of land, restoration to the rule of law and freedom of expression.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Sule Lamido, the chairman of the talks, said the day's negotiations had been "very frank and very fair."
Mr. Lamido and the others left it unclear whether talks had hit a snag. Mr. Lamido would say only that Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to examine the proposed final document and make his own declaration today.
Across Zimbabwe, ruling party militants have occupied more than 1,700 white-owned farms since March 2000, spurred by a government campaign to seize 4,600 farms owned by whites and give the land to blacks.
The targeted farms make up about 95 percent of the land owned by whites.
At least nine white farmers and dozens of opposition supporters have died in political violence since June.
Zimbabwe Land Minister Joseph Made said some kind of agreement had been reached, but he wouldn't elaborate.
Ministers credited Mr. Obasanjo with pushing the accord, quoting him as telling Zimbabwe it was an African solution to an African problem.
Mr. Lamido opened the talks by saying, "Africa cannot afford another war, not least a racial war or one with racial undertones. The signals coming from the crisis in Zimbabwe cannot and should not be ignored."
Any agreement must address the fears of Zimbabwe's white farmers as well as those of international business people, and protect the "lives and properties of all Zimbabweans," Mr. Lamido said.
"As we speak, the situation on the ground is deteriorating by the day," he said. "We can no longer afford to dither in these matters."
Jamaican Attorney General A.J. Nicholson, a participant in the talks, said the meeting would not address Zimbabwe's potential suspension from the Commonwealth, as Britain's Conservative Party recommended earlier in the week.
He said Commonwealth leaders wanted Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to attend the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Brisbane, Australia, next month.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Zimbabwe Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge shook hands before the discussions. Mr. Straw told reporters that he was approaching the talks with a "positive mind," and Mr. Mudenge said he was "even more positive."
The European Parliament yesterday urged European Union governments to impose their own sanctions on Mr. Mugabe for policies that legislators said had created "a climate of fear and despair" in his country.
When Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980, Mr. Mugabe's government promised to redistribute farmland to hundreds of thousands of landless blacks.


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