Barely a week after passing a constitutional amendment that empowered Zimbabwe to seize land owned by the whites without paying compensation, the government has done a volte face after renewed pledges by Western donors to provide finance for land redistribution.

Over the past two months black squatters have been invading and occupying hundreds of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe. Now the government is asking them to abandon the captured land.

This was a move anticipated by the white farmers who described the invasions as a tactical maneuver by President Robert Mugabe. The latter had blamed the whites for the lagging pace of land reforms.

To many analysts, however, the government's role in the entire episode was meant to appease the constituents before the parliamentary elections in May.

Now, faced with the prospect of donations from the West, the government is urging the black squatters to withdraw from the occupied farms. Vice president Joseph Msika persuaded the squatters, who want speedier redistribution of land, to calm down as there was no longer any need to continue with the demonstrations.

The government directive to the squatters came in the wake of Zimbabwe's high court order to Mugabe to evict squatters. The court called on the government "to recognise that it is in the permanent interest of Zimbabwe and the rule of law to bring an end to the farm invasions.

However, there was no immediate indication that the squatters, who have taken hold of around 600 farms, would follow thegovernment directive ina hurry.

But nevertheless, the latest stance adopted by the government was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by the Commercial Farmers Union, a representative body of the 4,000 white farmers who own more than half of the country's fertile lands. "We're pleased to see that the rule of law is going to be upheld,' said the president of the union Tim Henwood.

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