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Zimbabwe's Land Reform on Commonwealth's Agenda

Foreign ministers from Britain, Zimbabwe and six other British Commonwealth countries arrived in the Nigerian capital of Abuja late Wednesday to discuss Zimbabwe's controversial land reform program.

One day before talks with Commonwealth ministers, Zimbabwe's government has agreed to buy some of the land it has been seizing from white farmers. The government has accepted a three-month old offer from a union of mostly white farmers to sell farmland that was already due to be confiscated. But the government in Harare says it wants Britain to help foot the bill.

The decision comes as a delegation led by Zimbabwe's foreign minister is preparing to discuss the country's controversial land reform program with British counterparts in the Nigerian capital. The policy has attracted widespread international condemnation as well as anger from Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial master.

For more than a year, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has encouraged groups of veterans to forcibly occupy more than 1,000 white-owned farms. Mr. Mugabe says the fast-track redistribution of farm land to Zimbabwe's black population will destroy a relic of racist British colonialism. But the land seizures, in addition to a government record of persecution of journalists and opposition political leaders, have led to calls for sanctions against the southern African country.

On Tuesday, the European Parliament passed a resolution blaming Mr. Mugabe for "deterioration of law and order" in Zimbabwe. Parliament members called for Zimbabwe's suspension from the British Commonwealth, as well as a European Union travel ban against Mr. Mugabe and his family.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon has pressed for a much softer position of engagement.

Zimbabwe's foreign minister is to meet a British delegation, led by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Officials from Australia, Canada, India, Kenya and Nigeria will also be in attendance.