Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's Mugabe welcomes S. Africa land fund help

HARARE, June 1 (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday welcomed South Africa's help in raising money abroad to buy white-owned farms and hand them over to landless blacks.

South African President Thabo Mbeki's office said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia and unspecified Nordic countries had agreed to provide nine million pounds ($13.5 million) for the Zimbabwean government to begin buying farms. The money is to be delivered through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

"President Robert Mugabe today welcomed efforts by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to mobilise international funds for Zimbabwe's land resettlement programme," state radio said.

"Comrade Mugabe also expressed gratitude to the UNDP for assisting in the programme. He said the joint efforts will go a long way in helping Zimbabwe's land reform programme," it said.

Zimbabwean officials had previously played down pledges of foreign aid, saying donors had made similar promises at an international land conference two years ago.

They said many donors had promised in 1998 to help the government acquire one million hectares (2.5 million acres) a year under a five-year programme for black resettlement.

Britain has said it is willing to provide 36 million pounds for land reform in its former colony, but not until Mugabe puts a stop to the land invasions and political violence that have spread across the country since February.

At least 26 people, mostly blacks, have died in what critics say is a government-sponsored crackdown on the opposition ahead of parliamentary elections on June 24-25.

Mugabe has condemned the violence but said the invasion by his supporters and war veterans of more than 1,000 of the country's 4,500 mainly white-owned commercial farms is justified because the process of land redistribution has been too slow.

The director of the government's Land Acquisition Committee said late on Wednesday that lists of farms targeted for resettlement would be published on Friday and Monday and the first black farmers should be on the land by the end of June.

Mugabe made the comments to state media after meeting former Botswanan President Ketumile Masire to discuss peace efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

An independent Harare newspaper reported on Thursday that Zimbabwe would begin a phased withdrawal of its 11,000 troops from the Congo at the end of the month. Government officials were unavailable to comment on the Financial Gazette report.

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