Crucial by-elections in
Parliamentary by-elections are taking place in
two Zambian constituencies. They are being
seen as a crucial test of the popularity of
political parties before presidential and general
elections due within weeks.
Most opposition parties are boycotting the
polls, saying they are too close to the
forthcoming national elections.
But the newly-formed opposition Forum for
Democracy and Development, created by
disgruntled former ministers, said it would win
the two seats.
Zambian radio reported that President Chiluba
had urged voters to support his ruling
Movement for Multiparty Democracy if they
wanted their areas developed.
His comments prompted charges of bribery.
Four people have been injured in election
Debate over Zimbabwe
Reforms have lost some farm workers their homes
Ministers from Commonwealth countries have
started talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on
the explosive issue of land reform and the
growing political tensions in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe wants the talks to focus on the land
issue, and British financing of compensation
payments for land seized from white farmers.
The UK delegation, led
by foreign secretary
Jack Straw, plans to
use the meeting to
press the Zimbabwean
Mugabe to scale down
his ambition to
repossess the country's
white owned farms.
Harare announced on
the eve of these talks
that it had accepted an offer by white farmers
to turn over 531 farms, the majority of which
are in fact already ear marked for seizure.
Correspondents say the acceptance of the
offer seems designed to ease the international
criticism of Zimbabwe in time for the gathering.
Nigeria is chairing the conference, while senior
envoys from Australia, Jamaica, Kenya, South
Africa and Zimbabwe are also attending.
The BBC's Dan Isaacs, reporting from Abuja,
says Nigeria is playing the mediator's role as it
sees itself as both a friend to Britain, and to
The meeting is being
seen as an opportunity
to put the country's
problems on the
agenda ahead of the
of government summit
in Brisbane, Australia,
Until now, the issue of
land reform in
Zimbabwe has been
regarded by other
African nations as
largely an internal matter.
President Robert Mugabe and his government
have been happy to keep it that way,
accusing the former colonial power, Britain, of
meddling in its affairs and of failing to pay
reparations for land taken during colonial times.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Straw dismissed
charges that his delegation had little chance of
success, and urged constructive behaviour
from all sides.
"There is a need for land redistribution but it
must be handled differently, without violence,
without conflict, within the context of the
law," he said.
The increasing political instability in Zimbabwe,
rising unemployment and food shortages, are
creating acute problems.
The worry now is that the instability could
spread across Africa and sour the climate for
critical foreign investment.
It is in this light that
Government has taken
the significant step of
Britain and other
It is very unlikely that
Nigeria will openly
criticise Mr Mugabe at
But, like the South
Africans, they will be
hoping that pressure can be placed on
Zimbabwe to tone down its support for the
forced seizure of white-owned farmland.
The farmers' offer accepted on the eve of the
meeting has been on the table since July, but
the authorities have been in no hurry to
In the plan, the farmers offered to drop legal
challenges to the land reform programme and
to assist with the financing of resettlement
Analysts say the white farmers will be hoping
that this offer will free up other properties
which the government has targeted, but it is
unclear whether this will be the case.
Zimbabwean leaders have described the
development as proof that their country is able
to find a resolution to its dispute.
It "represents a home-grown solution which
amply shows that Zimbabweans are capable of
solving their own problems," said the country's
Vice-President Joseph Msika.
But he insisted on the need for foreign funding
to ensure the programme of reform ran
"Without assistance from outside, Zimbabwe
alone is not able to finance this," he said.