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Southern Africa Leaders to Discuss Zimbabwe Stalemate

Southern Africa leaders plan to meet Sunday in South Africa in an attempt to break a stalemate over allocating Cabinet positions in a planned government of national unity in Zimbabwe. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA from Johannesburg, that in the meantime government repression against ordinary Zimbabweans, including farmers and activists, is continuing.

A full regional summit will try to prod Zimbabwe Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe toward agreement over the allocation of Cabinet posts.

There is growing concern in the region over the ever-deteriorating plight of Zimbabweans and what experts say is an unprecedented shortage of food and increasing levels of hunger. The World Food Program says it expects to be feeding five million Zimbabweans by early next year.

But VOA has learned that despite this widespread suffering, police have prevented one of Zimbabwe's most productive farmers from planting his maize crop. Doug Taylor-Freeme is the only farmer in the large and fertile Makonde district in northern Zimbabwe to have already begun planting maize, which is the staple crop in Zimbabwe.

He said the Lands Department asked him to grow more maize this year because of the desperate shortage of food. He had planted nearly a third of his crop, which was expected to be the largest grown this season, when police moved in last Thursday and stopped him. Armed police were left at his farm to ensure he did not resume planting.

In order to obtain maximum yields all planting should be completed by the end of November, after that yields will become progressively smaller.

In a similar incident, the country's last remaining wheat-seed producer was arrested last weekend. Patrick Stooks, who farms about 80 kilometers north of Harare, his wife Susan, and 12 of their workers were arrested Saturday.

The government says the Stooks remained on their farm in contravention of land laws and accused them of inciting violence. But the Commercial Farmers Union says the real reason is that a Zimbabwe diplomat normally based in Japan wants their farm.

The Stooks were arrested at gun point. Mrs. Stooks has been held in a tiny bathroom with a blocked toilet since Saturday. The room is so small she is unable to lie down.

The farmers union says no farmer can be evicted without prior notification and it says Mrs. Stooks is being held in inhumane conditions.

Elsewhere in Zimbabwe, scores of activists, including several members of the group Women of Zimbabwe Arise, have been arrested at peaceful protests in recent weeks. All remain in jail after being refused bail.

The Movement for Democratic Change says the power sharing agreement signed in September by Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Mugabe has been seriously undermined by the arrests. Under the agreement, Mr. Mugabe committed himself to allow farmers to get on with producing food.