- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

ROME Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe sought to deflect accusations yesterday that his program of confiscating white-owned farms is exacerbating the country's food crisis.
Mr. Mugabe spoke to the U.N. World Food Summit in Rome, skirting a European Union travel ban. EU and U.N. officials said the ban couldn't prevent him from attending an international meeting.
"My government has responded to the people's cry for land," he said. "Contrary to widely disseminated misrepresentations by our detractors, there is now a brighter future for our farming community across color, gender and ethnic divides."
Mr. Mugabe called the land seizures a "firm launching pad" to fight poverty and hunger. Critics say the program has been disastrous.
The goal is to confiscate 95 percent of land owned by the nation's 4,000 white farmers and redistribute it to landless blacks.
But since it began in 2000, the program has helped drive hundreds of white farmers and tens of thousands of their black workers off the land.
About 60,000 whites live among 13 million blacks in Zimbabwe. Some 4,000 white farmers own a third of the nation's land.
Mr. Mugabe's opponents also accuse the government of withholding food aid from its supporters even as the country is experiencing a major food crisis.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change said it was "shocked and dismayed at the sheer hypocrisy of Mugabe's attendance at the U.N. World Food Summit in Rome."
"The Mugabe who talks about the need for international aid to help tackle the food crisis is the same Mugabe who is blatantly denying food to hundreds of thousands of people suspected of voting for the MDC in the recent presidential elections," it said in a statement.
EU spokesman Gunnar Wiegand also criticized Mr. Mugabe's presence here, even though he acknowledged Italy couldn't block him from attending.
"It is distasteful to see the president of Zimbabwe giving the impression he is really caring about the poverty and the provision of food of his people" when his policies showed otherwise, Mr. Wiegand said.
The European Union imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions against Mugabe's government after he refused to let EU observers freely monitor Zimbabwe's presidential election. Mr. Mugabe was re-elected in March, a vote widely criticized as deeply flawed.
The European Union cut off $110 million in development aid, banned all travel to the EU for Mr. Mugabe and 20 of his cabinet ministers and froze their assets in Europe.
Nearly one fourth of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people are facing hunger according to an estimate by the U.S.-funded Famine Early Warning System Network.
The World Food Program estimates half the population will need food aid to avert starvation this year.
Five other southern African countries are also at risk of starvation because of drought, floods, government mismanagement and economic instability, WFP says.

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