Summit closes without decision on land case

August 18, 2010 12:00 am

, WINDHOEK, Aug 18 – Southern African leaders on Tuesday gave themselves six months to review a stand-off between Zimbabwe and a regional court that ruled against President Robert Mugabe\’s land reforms.

The tribunal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), whose leaders wrapped up a two-day summit in Namibia\’s capital Windhoek on Tuesday, ruled in 2008 that 78 white farmers could keep their land, saying they had been unfairly targeted because of their race.

But Zimbabwe has refused to respect the verdict even though Harare has signed the treaty creating the court, which has no power to enforce its rulings except through decisions of a summit.

"The SADC summit decided that a review of the role, functions and terms of reference of the SADC tribunal should be undertaken and concluded within six months," Joao Samuel Caholo, deputy executive secretary of the 15-member bloc, said at the close of the annual summit.

Political analysts had expected the SADC to avoid taking decisive action for fear the contentious issue could split the bloc, which has struggled to act with a united voice on Zimbabwe.

Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who took over as SADC chair at the summit, said the organisation needed to work on imposing its mandate more firmly.

"There are still constraints and challenges to implement goals set by our common agenda and keeping with timelines," he said at the closing ceremony.

"Not improving on that will put in question our commitment and it might create frustration among the people in our region."

Mugabe, who at 86 is Africa\’s oldest leader with three decades in power, formed a unity government last year with former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now the prime minister.

About 4,000 white farmers have been forced off their land in a violent and politically charged campaign launched by Mugabe in 2000.

The chaotic resettlement process slashed food production, making the nation chronically dependent on foreign handouts.

Around 400 white farmers remain in Zimbabwe.

Harare insists that the SADC tribunal treaty was never ratified, but critics contend that signing it was enough.

An investigation into the stand-off by the region\’s justice ministers was meant to be presented at the summit, but officials said the ministers never finished their report.

South Africa\’s courts have registered the SADC judgement, leading to the seizure of Zimbabwe government properties for auction to help cover the farmers\’ legal costs.

Zimbabwe\’s political feud has delayed progress on electoral reforms. The power-sharing pact had called for a referendum on a new constitution for last month, but the process has barely gotten off the ground.

In a statement released after the summit, the region\’s leaders commended Mugabe and Tsvangirai for their efforts on implementing the power-sharing deal and called on the international community to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe "in the light of significant progress made in implementing the (agreement)."

The SADC has been much tougher on Madagascar, which was suspended from the bloc over the March 2009 army-backed ouster of president Marc Ravalomanana by the former mayor of the capital Andry Rajoelina.

Despite a new agreement signed last week between Rajoelina and 99 political parties, including Ravalomanana\’s, setting out a calendar for new elections, sanctions on Madagascar will remain in place "until the country returns to constitutional normalcy," the leaders said.



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