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Land Reform Issue Dominates First Day of Zimbabwe Investment Forum

The three principals in Zimbabwe's troubled unity government differed sharply on the vexed question of land reform on the opening day Thursday of a conference aimed at convincing international investors to bring capital to the country's economic recovery.

President Robert Mugabe called on Britain to pay restitution to farmers whose properties were seized by his government in the controversial fast-track land reform program which it launched in 2000 and which has been blamed for the country's economic collapse.

Mr. Mugabe told delegates attending Zimbabwe International Investment Conference that the responsibility of compensating the white commercial farmers rested "on the shoulders of the British government and it's allies." The president said Zimbabwe will only compensate white farmers for improvement to properties seized for land redistribution.

But Britain's outgoing ambassador to Zimbabwe, Andrew Pocock, said last week that his government was under no legal obligation to provide such compensation.

Seeking to allay concerns over reports of disturbances in the commercial farming sector, Mr. Mugabe said government would not expropriate all white-owned properties despite reports of more invasions, especially in the rich farming province of Midlands.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, seemed at odds with Mr. Mugabe, telling conference delegates that the unity government had agreed to address the question of compensation.

Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara head of a smaller MDC grouping, said that compensation should not be an issue, urging the government to resolve the issues still troubling it to attract investment, correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported.

Political analyst John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe professor, told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that it was delusional for Mr. Mugabe to suggest Britain should pay restitution to farmers dispossessed by his government.

Economists say that Zimbabwe's economic recovery depends on government's success in attracting foreign direct investment as well as its ability to coax funds out of bilateral or multilateral donors. They say investment is critical to economic growth and job creation as the capital that comes into the country is directed into productive capacity including employment, triggering sustainable economic growth.

For a closer look at the investment challenge, reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to two experts: Economy in Transition Program Associate Richard Kamidza of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe and economist Prosper Chitambara of the Labor and Economic Research Institute of Zimbabwe.

Both said there is considerable interest in investment opportunities in the country, but that success hinges on government action to protect property rights, among other reforms.

Chitambara said that in light of the national unity government’s cash-strapped situation, foreign direct investment is critical to bankrolling Zimbabwe's recovery.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...