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Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda Urges Britain To Engage With Zimbabwe

Zambian founding president Kenneth Kaunda has joined the ranks of African leaders offering their services to help resolve the Zimbabwe crisis, more specifically to end the standoff between President Robert Mugabe and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has vowed to boycott a European-African summit if Mr. Mugabe shows up.

The December summit in Lisbon has become a focal point for European and African leaders because the Zimbabwe question threatens to overshadow the summit or, as happened in 2003, scuttle it over the issue of Mr. Mugabe's participation.

Mr. Brown's threat to withhold top-level British participation if Mr. Mugabe is included has not gone over well with African governments which see in his ultimatum a post-colonialist bid to impose Western policies on what should be equal partners.

Mr. Brown cited Harare's record on human rights and the deepening humanitarian crisis in the country, which he laid at Mr. Mugabe's doorstep, saying it would be "inappropriate" for him to share a podium with the African head of state.

Summit host Portugal has not yet sent out invitations for the December 8-9 summit, but Zimbabwe Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said Monday that Mr. Mugabe will definitely attend the summit even if Mr. Brown decides to stay away.

Harare has further taken umbrage at a British proposal that the European Union send a special envoy to Zimbabwe to assess human rights and humanitarian conditions in advance of the summit, seeing in this, according to the government-controlled Herald newspaper, an effort by the somewhat diplomatically isolated Brown to "save face."

Kaunda, weighing in, said Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Brown both should attend the summit and open themselves to mediation by other countries. Much as Harare has done, Mr. Kaunda framed the dispute in terms of Britain's role in the chaotic land reform program that many see cite as the root cause of Zimbabwe's current deep economic crisis.

Harare charges that Britain reneged on a commitment to financially underwrite land reform, fatally destabilizing the agricultural economy. Britain says it stopped payments to Harare for land redistribution because land was mainly going to Mugabe cronies.

Harare says talks are needed to resolve what it sees as unfinished business; London says it met its commitment to the tune of 44 million pounds between 1980 and 1988.

Mr. Kaunda first expressed an interest in meeting with Mr. Brown at the recent summit of Southern African Development Community leaders in Lusaka, Zambia, stressing the importance of land and historical issues in the British-Zimbabwean relationship.

"When I look back at the road that this man (Mr. Mugabe) has walked, I don't understand how the world can just choose to look only at the current problems that Zimbabwe is facing without looking holistically on the country's history, particularly on the land issue," the Times of Zambia quoted Mr. Kaunda as saying this week.

"Yes, there are problems in Zimbabwe at the moment," Mr. Kaunda told an audience at a British Council-sponsored event in Ndola, Zambia. "But it would be unfair for all of us here sitting in this room today, to just demonize Mugabe, without trading the roots, from which the problems are emanating today."

Kaunda's chief of staff Godwin Mfula told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Kaunda wants to encourage Britain to engage in a dialogue with Zimbabwe.

A spokesperson for Mr. Brown at 10 Downing Street declined to comment, but said that no meeting had been scheduled with Mr. Kaunda.

Senior Analyst Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group said Mr. Kaunda could play a constructive role, but would have to be careful not to undermine the mediation being pursued by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

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