World

African leaders rally behind Mugabe

Several African leaders backed Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe Friday, praising the way he's handled a bloody dispute over farmland owned by a small minority of whites.

The presidents of South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique also called on all Western countries that have promised money for land reform to pay up before anyone else is killed including the U.S. and Britain.

Their statement was made after a meeting in Victoria Falls, a resort town in Zimbabwe. Top politicians from South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda met with Mugabe to discuss regional issues.

Zimbabwe is embroiled in a fight over land. Thousands of black war veterans and squatters have been occupying hundreds of white-owned farms for weeks. At least seven people have been killed.

Courts have ruled that the trespassers are breaking the law, but the police have not moved in to remove them. Mugabe has been criticized for not stopping the violence.

"The British government should act consistent with the agreement which it took voluntarily," South African President Thabo Mbeki told reporters.

Britain pledged nearly $55 million for land reform after the the region became independent in 1980. After paying 90 per cent of the amount, it froze funding in 1990 accusing Zimbabwe of violating the deal by forcing unwilling farmers to sell their land to the state.

In 1998, Britain and the United States agreed to help pay for resettlement of people on about 100 farms. But the arrangement fell through when Zimbabwe insisted 1,500 farms be turned over.

About 4,000 white people own roughly one-third of the country's farms. But land problems in Zimbabwe are not the only concerns in Africa.

On Friday, leaders also discussed ways to calm tensions in the Congo, where a shaky ceasefire is in place.

Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola have troops in the Congo to support Congolese President Laurent Kabila. Rebels supported by Rwanda and Uganda struggled for nearly two years to overthrow Kabila, before the ceasefire was implemented.

There are worries that fighting in the Congo could spin out of control, leading to a huge conflict involving several countries.

African leaders might pull troops out of the Congo and allow United Nations peacekeepers in.