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Zimbabwe Govt. Backs Land Grab Law

March 2, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ The government said Thursday it aims to change the nation’s constitution to allow it to seize white-owned farms without paying compensation, despite its defeat on the issue in a recent referendum.

The announcement came as illegal invasions of white-owned farms mounted, severely disrupting the reaping and curing of tobacco, the Commercial Farmers’ Union said. Tobacco is the nation’s biggest hard-currency earner.

The union said squatters led by former guerrillas of the bush war that led to independence in 1980 had stormed onto 22 more white properties across the country, bringing the total number of farms occupied in recent days to 70.

David Hasluck, director of the farmers’ union, said police so far failed to intervene to stop the wave of invasions, leaving farming districts lawless and facing anarchy. No injuries were reported.

The government said it will ask lawmakers to approve new laws speeding up land confiscation. The parliament in Harare could pass the constitutional amendment by April, before the general election scheduled for that month.

An amendment permitting the government for the first time to take land without paying for it was included in a revised constitution rejected by 55 percent of voters in a referendum Feb. 12-13, the biggest defeat for President Robert Mugabe since independence in 1980.

The government argues land now owned by the descendants of British settlers was taken from blacks during the colonial era without payment.

The farmers’ union has accused the ruling party of orchestrating the invasions after some of some of those involved were seen being transported in trucks with official license plates, others were being supplied with food from government vehicles and group leaders claiming to be impoverished land-hungry peasants carried mobile phones.

Government spokesman Chen Chimutengwende has denied state involvement.

The nation, the world’s second biggest tobacco exporter after Brazil, relies on tobacco revenues to help pay for imports, including fuel. Interruptions in production caused by the farm invaders were likely to cause millions of dollars in losses.

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