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Mugabe Defends His Policies at Earth Summit - 2002-09-02

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe Monday delivered an impassioned defense of his policies and government at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Mr. Mugabe denounced industrial countries and international organizations, including the United Nations for failing the world's poor since the 1992 earth summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The Zimbabwean president said that in the 10 years since, the poor have become more vulnerable than ever before, suffering in ever-greater numbers from hunger and disease and the deadly effects of HIV/AIDS.

Mr. Mugabe said that in Zimbabwe sustainable development will not be possible without land reform, a return of the land to what he called the right-holders from white commercial farmers, a group he described as an unyielding and internationally well-connected racial minority.

"That is why we in Zimbabwe understand only too well that sustainable development is not possible without agrarian reforms that acknowledge in our case that land comes first before all else, and that all else grows from and off the land," he said. "This is the one asset that not only defines the Zimbabwean personality and demarcates sovereignty, but also an asset that has a direct bearing on the fortunes of the poor and prospects for their immediate empowerment and sustainable development."

Mr. Mugabe alluded briefly to the famine that is threatening 14 million people in southern Africa. In Zimbabwe more than half the population, six million people, face starvation.

Mr. Mugabe blamed their suffering on drought and crop failure, but did not mention that farmers forced off their farms have been unable to harvest maturing crops or plant for the next season.

In her address, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark suggested that it is Mr. Mugabe's policies that are at the root of his people's plight.

"As we meet here to discuss sustainable development and poverty eradication, 13 million of our fellow world citizens face starvation to our north, following prolonged droughts and failed harvests," he said. "In one case this disaster has been made so much worse by deliberate and cynical government policies."

The Zimbabwean leader scoffed at international sanctions, which target government officials and their families.

"We do not mind having and bearing sanctions banning us from Europe. We are not Europeans, we have not asked for any inch of Europe, any square inch of that territory," he said. "So Blair keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe."

Mr. Mugabe's address was greeted by jubilant applause from some delegates especially when he directed his comments against industrialized countries.