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Zimbabwe Opposition Skeptical About Land Deal - 2001-09-07

Zimbabwe's main opposition party has strongly criticized the agreement reached at the meeting of the Commonwealth on redistribution of land from white-owned commercial farms. The party is skeptical that the government and President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party will keep its side of the agreement, which was reached in Abuja, Nigeria.

Tendai Biti, foreign affairs spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change, told a news conference in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, Friday that the agreement is what he calls "a betrayal" of the economic and political crisis in the country.

Zimbabwe has agreed to stop the illegal seizure of white-owned farms and enforce the rule of law in exchange for a pledge from Commonwealth nations to fund its land redistribution program to benefit poor, landless blacks.

Mr. Biti says the main weakness of the agreement is the declaration that land is at the center of the country's problems. He says a far wider range of problems needs to be overcome, particularly violence, enforcing the rule of law and revamping the country's economy. "Land has become the football ground," he says. "ZANU-PF is fighting the power contestation in the run up to the 2002 presidential elections and that is why it has suddenly become an issue."

Mr. Biti says that the government has a long record of failing to keep agreements. He says it is doubtful that the government will uphold the agreement. "In our view, we don't see ZANU and the Harare regime upholding and respecting on the ground and in Zimbabwe the Abuja agreement," Mr. Biti says. "To think otherwise, given its past history, would be in our view naive."

Political analysts in Zimbabwe say the successful implementation of the agreement will depend on the reaction of President Mugabe, who has been in Libya for almost a week.

Colin Cloete, president of the Commercial Farmers Union, says he hopes that the agreement will be the basis for serious discussion. He describes the situation on commercial farms as "desperate" with an upsurge in violence over the past week.