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Mugabe visits Europe in search of aid, political understanding

Prime Minister Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is on a seven-nation European tour, searching for economic help and political understanding.

His journey began in Britain with a plea for a faster flow of economic aid to Zimbabwe, which is suffering from a slackening growth rate that has produced a payments deficit of (STR)400 million ($720 million).

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Margaret Thatcher was able to help: Treasury aid to help the Mugabe government transfer land from white farmers to poor black farmers is being accelerated.

Mr. Mugabe left London for Paris and Bonn hoping to find similar responses there.

The Zimbabwe leader feels confident enough in the political stability of his nation to plan a trip that will also take him to Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands , and Greece. That in itself is remarkable.

Less than four months ago Zimbabwe politics were rocked by a dispute between the prime minister and Joshua Nkomo, seen by many as the father of Zimbabwe nationalism but leader of a rival political grouping.

In wide-ranging swoops, Zimbabwe police found arms caches belonging to Nkomo supporters. Mr. Nkomo himself was dismissed from the Mugabe coalition.

Outside Zimbabwe the resulting dispute was portrayed as a serious crisis. But in London and the other capitals he is visiting, Mr. Mugabe is arguing that this was not correct. He told Mrs. Thatcher, and contended to British journalists, that the row with Mr. Nkomo did not indicate a crisis.

''Rival guerrilla groups and the white forces of pre-independence Zimbabwe have been integrated. Health and educational services have been expanded. The speed with which all this has been happening is something of a miracle,'' he said.

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Mr. Mugabe badly needs a period of stability in Zimbabwe. He also needs international support for his policies of racial conciliation and economic development.

If he does not get what he is looking for, the head of steam Zimbabwe achieved in its first two years as an independent nation may be lost.

There is no doubt Zimbabwe needs a steadily rising flow of economic help. From 1980, when a growth rate of 12 percent was achieved, expansion has slumped to a mere 3 percent.

Behind the statistics lies a determined attempt to transform the socioeconomic structure of the country, putting land in the hands of former guerrillas and giving them a stake in stability and economic growth.

That is where grants from countries like Britain, West Germany, and France are vital. Without outside help, Mr. Mugabe's plans will falter.

British news media representatives were not prepared to let Mr. Mugabe leave London without challenging his assertion that coverage of the sacking of Mr. Nkomo had been exaggerated. It is pointed out that many Nkomo supporters are still roaming the countryside and that there are probably illicit arms dumps in a number of places.

Mr. Mugabe is trying to gain a European consensus in favor of letting his policies have a reasonable chance to succeed. But he is not thinking only about Europe.

His aides suggest that if enough sympathy can be generated within the European Community, pressure will begin to mount on the United States to come up with more help.

A year ago at an international Zimbabwe aid conference, a total of (STR)950 million was pledged. Britain, with a pledge of (STR)130 million, is the largest donor. The Reagan administration offered only (STR)90 million.

Mr. Mugabe says the United States should be capable of a much bigger effort, since his policies are tilted against communism and toward parliamentary democracy.

Rumors that the Zimbabwe leader is planning to turn his country into a one-party state were firmly stamped on during his London visit. Aides said there was no such plan; reports of a one-party state within two or three years were described as fanciful.

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