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Obasanjo: Mugabe Pledges Fair Elections - 2002-01-21

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has told him that President Robert Mugabe has agreed to make sure there will be free and fair presidential elections in Zimbabwe in March. The Nigerian leader met Mr. Tsvangirai and President Mugabe separately early Monday during a seven-hour stop over in the capital.

The meeting in Harare between Mr. Tsvangirai and President Obasanjo was the first since Nigeria brokered an agreement in Abuja for Zimbabwe to return to the rule of law and stop violence. In return, Britain agreed to help pay compensation to white commercial farmers whose land has been seized by the Zimbabwe government.

Since then many more white-owned farms have been taken over and invaded by militant groups loyal to Mr. Mugabe. There have also been thousands of incidents of violence, and at least 20 people have been killed.

Human rights groups blame the ruling ZANU-PF party for almost all of the incidents.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said in a statement that Mr. Tsvangirai had been greatly encouraged by the meeting. The statement said Nigerian President Obasanjo had told the MDC leader that Mr. Mugabe has pledged to allow free and fair elections and to stop violence immediately.

Mr. Tsvangirai replied, however, that "rhetoric was not matched by action," and referred to Zimbabwe police preventing a rally in Bulawayo on Sunday. At least 18 people were injured when police fired tear gas. Police say that four officers were hurt.

The MDC said that Mr. Mugabe also told the Nigerian president that he would abide by the Southern African Development Community declaration that there will not be any restrictions on foreign and domestic monitors at the presidential elections on March 9-10.

The Zimbabwe government says the Nigerian leader fully backed Mr. Mugabe over the seizure of white-owned farms. The government says the Nigerian leader also referred to what the government calls "the slow pace" of the Abuja agreement.