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EU Offers to Fund Zimbabwe Land Audit - But Redistribution Hardliners Dig In

The European Union has promised to fund a land audit to help Zimbabwe chart its course on land redistribution and revitalization of its moribund agricultural sector.

President Robert Mugabe launched land reform a decade ago and since 2000 the majority of white-owned commercial farms have been taken over in the often-chaotic and violence process, some redistributed to small farmers, many others grabbed by top officials.

Many large Zimbabwean farms are lying fallow or are poorly managed and yielding only a fraction of their potential output.

Lands Minister Herbert Murerwa recently said an audit, called for by the 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing, would cost 30 million dollars, so the initiative could not be launched. But EU Ambassador Xavier Marshal told a meeting in Harare Thursday that Europe would fund an inclusive, transparent and comprehensive land audit.

Marshall added however that the government should assume responsibility for the dislocation it caused in the sector by seizing farmland willy-nilly, which caused tensions between Harare and Western governments over related legal, human rights and economic issues.

Political analyst and human rights lawyer Brian Kagoro told reporter Sandra Nyaira of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while Zimbabwe needs a land audit to return the farm sector to order, donors like the EU should give more priority to pressing humanitarian issues.

Meanwhile, ZANU-PF hardliners are pushing for the Cabinet to adopt a plan that would see the few remaining white commercial farmers driven from their property within a few months.

Earlier reports suggested the draft submitted by Lands Minister Murerwa would recommend that the farmers be given two years to vacate. But sources say the draft calls for continued land seizures and says no foreigner should be allowed to own land in the country.

The document is silent on the question of a land audit, the sources said.

It is estimated that fewer than 300 white farmers remain on the land. The General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe has estimated that more than 66,000 farm workers have been left homeless since February due to continued invasions.

Minister of State for Security Didymus Mutasa, in the office of President Mugabe, told Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that the proposed plan is backed by the Movement for Democratic Change. But MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said this is not the case, arguing that the arbitrary seizure of land by top officials must end for the country's economic good.

Much the same sentiments were echoed by spokesman Edwin Mushoriwa of the rival MDC formation led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

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