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By Silvia Aloisi
ROME (Reuters) - President Robert Mugabe called on Tuesday for the West to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe, saying "neo-colonialist enemies" were trying to make his land reform fail and his country dependent on food imports.
Mugabe, speaking at a U.N. food summit in Rome, denounced what he called the "punitive policies of certain countries" whose interests he said were opposed to the success of his farm and food policies.
But compared with his firebrand attacks on the United States and Britain, he struck a relatively moderate tone in his speech.
"We face very hostile interventions by these states which have imposed unilateral sanctions on us," Mugabe said.
"This has had a negative impact on our farmers who, according to our neo-colonialist enemies, must fail as to damn the land reforms we have undertaken," he added, without naming any country.
He added that Zimbabwe had also "seen a wish to make us dependent on food imports as opposed to enhancing our capacity for production."
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has long been a pariah in the West. Critics blame him for plunging his country, once the bread basket of southern Africa, into poverty through mismanagement and corruption.
"INHUMAN SANCTIONS"
He has repeatedly accused his Western foes of ruining the economy through sanctions in retaliation for a policy of seizing white-owned commercial farms for landless blacks. Those countries say the sanctions only target him and close associates.
"May Western countries please remove their illegal and inhuman sanctions on my country and its people," he said at the end of his speech in Rome.
Since forming a unity government with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai this year, Mugabe has made some overtures for better ties with the West, drawing a cautious reaction from London and Washington.
Britain last month said it would provide 59 million pounds in aid to Zimbabwe, its largest donation to the country, to help the new government and ease a grim humanitarian crisis .
At the U.N. summit, Mugabe defended his land policies, and said reversing them would create bitter conflicts. "Zimbabwe will not allow land alienation from the indigenous farmers by a new class of imported would-be land owners," he said.
He said that thanks to a dam construction programme and with adequate support Zimbabwe had the potential to increase land irrigation to 453,000 hectares from 153,000 now.
Seeds and fertilisers provided by the Southern African Development Community meant Zimbabwe's maize production had increased by 75 percent this year, he added.

Reuters