JOHANNESBURG April 22 2000 Sapa

The Sunday Times reported that Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe had made behind the scene concessions to South African president Thabo Mbeki to end the illegal occupation of white-owned farms and to hold free and fair elections.

South African oppositions parties reacted with outrage on Saturday after it was reported that Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, Namibian president Sam Nujoma and Mbeki came out in support to Mugabe at a press conference at Victoria Falls summit referring to him as a "champion of the rule of law".

According to the Sunday Times, the statements were aimed at publicly committing Mugabe to sticking to the agreement.

Mbeki lobbied leaders of the US, Europe, Britain and Southern Africa to back a dramatic rescue plan for the strife torn country, which he presented to Mugabe at the summit on Friday.

In a private meeting with Mbeki, Mugabe agreed to order war veterans to end their occupation of farms, hold free and fair elections and tone down his inflammatory rhetoric.

In return, Britain has agreed to fund Mugabe's land reform programme, hundreds of millions of rands in loan finance for Zimbabwe through the International Monetary Fund are to be unlocked and South Africa will lobby international finance organisations and local businesses on its neighbour's behalf.

The deal followed a week of intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy in which Mbeki spoke by telephone to US president Bill Clinton, British prime minister Tony Blair and European Union leader Romano Prodi to get their undertaking to support land reform in Zimbabwe. The evacuation of the 10000 illegal squatters on farms in Zimbabwe is expected to begin this week.

A delegation of Zimbabwean ministers will fly to London this week to finalise details of the deal, which will see funds pledged by Britain and others in 1988 released to the country.

Friday's deal followed a bloody week in which two farmers and two opposition supporters were killed.

Source : Sapa /cb