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Zimbabwe Agreement Hailed As Triumph For African Diplomacy - 2001-09-07

A meeting of foreign ministers from Britain and several of its former colonies has adjourned Friday after reaching a landmark agreement that the countries say will prevent further seizures of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe.

Spirits were high among delegates at the conclusion of talks. In addition to ending the farm seizures, officials from host country Nigeria say Zimbabwe has also agreed to restore the rule of law, stop violence and intimidation, and show commitment to freedom of expression according to the constitution of Zimbabwe.

In exchange, Harare won a pledge from Commonwealth nations to fund its land redistribution program to benefit poor, landless blacks. The Commonwealth is made up of Britain and other states that were once part of the British empire and its dependencies.

Few observers imagined this type of resolution would have been possible at the start of the Abuja talks on Thursday. Months of tension and harsh criticism had left Zimbabwe internationally isolated and facing the threat of sanctions from the United States, the European Union and even the Commonwealth countries.

Speaking after the agreement was announced, Zimbabwe's agriculture minister, Joseph Made, said he and his commonwealth counterparts were able to discuss these contentious issues as friends. "You know when friends and colleagues in the Commonwealth meet, they discuss a number of issues," he said. "And that discussion was very frank, very open, and you know very, very fair,"

Many diplomats in Abuja were quick to praise the agreement as a diplomatic breakthrough. However, the head of the British delegation in Abuja, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, was cautious. He said that until Zimbabwe follows through with its promises, the framework agreement is nothing more than a piece of paper.

"I think it represents a constructive way forward. But the ultimate test for what we've done today is not determined by the words on the paper, but how events unfold on the ground," he said.

But Mr. Straw's cautious reaction was not shared by many in Abuja. One analyst described the agreement as an historic victory for African diplomacy.