By Michael Hartnack

Harare - Only 40 percent of the 25-million acres of land seized from whites since February 2000 has been taken over by black farmers, President Robert Mugabe was quoted as saying on Friday.

Mugabe told an annual gathering of 100 traditional tribal leaders in the northern resort town of Kariba that the government had resumed allocating land after a temporary halt to allow an audit into alleged corruption, according to state radio and the official Herald newspaper.

He urged new applicants to come forward.

"There is a lot of land that was not taken," he was reported as saying.

Mugabe said that in the past, some people were given land on the basis of their ambition but this was no longer enough.

"You need capability, money and labour. Not everyone can be a farmer," he was quoted as saying.

The confiscation of 5 000 white-owned farms in the past six years is widely blamed for causing a crash in agricultural production, exports and the value of Zimbabwe's currency.

However, official spokesperson have dismissed repeated reports that many of the farms have become derelict, with irrigation equipment looted for scrap, trees felled for firewood and buildings vandalised for bricks, roofing materials, window and door frames.

Farming experts have disputed Agriculture Minister Joseph Made's claims that 230 000 formerly landless black families have been successfully resettled.

Mugabe ordered the seizures after losing a referendum on a new constitution that would have entrenched his rule indefinitely. He blamed whites for orchestrating opposition to his government, in power since 1980 independence. Western observers alleged widespread rigging and intimidation in recent presidential and parliamentary elections in which he claimed victory.

Black Zimbabweans were invited in 2000 to apply for subdivided farms, and state-controlled newspapers published names of hundreds of thousands of "lottery winners".

In another sign of the woes facing farmers, the government said that winter wheat yields would likely be affected by power cuts that had disrupted irrigation.

"The crop is suffering badly from these power cuts. That is likely to have an adverse effect on the yield," a senior agricultural official, Shadreck Mlambo was quoted as saying in the Herald.

The newspaper said that only 53 percent of the targeted area had been planted. It cited the shortage of critical inputs such as fertiliser, the erratic supply of fuel and delayed payment for grain. - Sapa-AP