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Southern African Ministers Meet On Zimbabwe Turmoil - 2001-12-10

Ministers from the Southern African Development Community, or SADEC, are meeting in Harare for discussions on the political crisis in Zimbabwe. At a SADEC meeting in September, Zimbabwe agreed to restore the rule of law, particularly on mainly white-owned commercial farms.

The meeting opened with a 45-minute speech from Zimbabwe's foreign minister, Stan Mudenge, who said Britain had conspired to turn the European Union, the United States, and now some southern African states against his country.

This meeting is a follow-up to a recent SADEC meeting in which the 14-member organization, behind closed doors, criticized President Robert Mugabe's government and the seizure of land from commercial farmers.

Since then, South African President Thabo Mbeki has been more openly critical of Zimbabwe, and has tried to prepare the regional organization to support stronger, but as yet unspecified, actions against Mr. Mugabe's government.

During the two-day meeting, SADEC ministers are to hear from various interest groups, including members of opposition parties, the Commercial Farmers Union, and independence war veterans, the group that is playing a key role in the farm seizures.

Representatives of the General Agricultural and Plantation workers union, which represents farm workers, say they will tell SADEC ministers that Mugabe's supporters had forced more than 70,000 commercial farm workers to leave their jobs and homes.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, for its part, says it will provide evidence that hundreds of its supporters have been beaten, tortured, or imprisoned since the previous SADEC meeting.

However, several political analysts say that even if SADEC is united in its opposition to President Mugabe during this meeting, it is powerless to do more than criticize, for fear of upsetting regional trade and transport links with Zimbabwe.