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White Zimbabwe Farmers Vilified

April 19, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ With President Robert Mugabe calling white farmers ``enemies of Zimbabwe″ and violence against opposition supporters increasing, government critics are worried the crisis could worsen ahead of parliamentary elections.

Opposition politicians say Mugabe organized the violent occupation of white-owned farms and other political attacks that killed four people in recent days after an electoral loss in a constitutional referendum in February convinced him his party could lose the elections, which are expected to be called in May.

``He’s been trying to create the conditions necessary for a state of emergency because that’s the only way he can postpone this election,″ said David Coltart, an official with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

In a television interview on Tuesday, Zimbabwe’s 20th anniversary of independence from white rule, Mugabe said that white farmers’ opposition to the proposed constitution ``exposed them as our enemies, not just political enemies, but definite enemies in wanting to reverse our revolution and our independence.″

The proposed constitution would have allowed the government to seize white-owned farms for distribution to landless blacks without paying compensation.

Immediately after the referendum, landless blacks began occupying white-owned farms across the country in what Mugabe called a justified protest against white ownership of one-third of the country’s productive farmland.

The occupations have become increasingly violent.

On Tuesday, a white farmer was shot and killed in an organized attack by assailants toting assault rifles, another farmer was abducted, beaten and released at a ruling party office, and a third farmer had many of the buildings on his land torched, opposition leaders and farm union officials said.

On Saturday, two MDC members were killed in a firebombing and farmer David Stevens, a known MDC supporter, was slain by ruling party supporters. Five of Stevens’ neighbors were severely beaten by attackers demanding they confess to ties with the opposition.

With the country suffering from its worst economic crisis since independence and the ruling party losing popularity, Mugabe is trying to frighten the white farmers and their workers into abandoning their support for the popular Movement for Democratic Change, Coltart said.

``He’s absolutely desperate. He knows that he’s playing his final card now, the intimidation card,″ Coltart said.

Early Tuesday, 40 to 100 attackers armed with AK-47 assault rifles drove onto a farm in western Zimbabwe and besieged the home of cattle rancher Martin Olds. Attackers killed Olds, 42, in a gunbattle that lasted nearly three hours, Coltart said. They then burned down his house.

Soon after, a group of attackers with assault rifles, possibly the same people, broke up an MDC rally of 300 people in the nearby city of Bulawayo, Coltart said.

Officials from the Commercial Farmers Union, which represents most of the white farmers, said Monday that the government had begun arming the squatters _ who previously had only axes, spears and hunting rifles _ with submachine guns.

Fearing a further escalation in violence, farm union officials advised farmers to evacuate their wives and children from their land in the western province of Matabeleland, where Olds was killed, and the neighboring province of Midlands, David Hasluck, director of the union, said today.

Three farmers were evacuated from their land near Marondera, 45 miles east of Harare today after receiving threats of violence, said Harry Orphanides, a farm union official. Another 80 families remained evacuated from the nearby Macheke area, where the attack on Stevens occurred

Mugabe’s verbal assault on white farmers during an interview with state-run Zimbabwe Broadcast Corp. was a marked hardening of his stance, even from the televised anniversary speech he had made just minutes before.

During that speech, he said he would work to broker a compromise between farmers and the squatters, a stand that seemed to echo what farm leaders said he told them during a meeting Monday.

But in his interview, Mugabe said he gave the farmers a different message.

``I told them it required real transformation on their part in a positive way for us to accept them as allies wanting to live side by side. Until then we will continue to regard them now and in the future as enemies of our people,″ Mugabe said.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said the chaos threatens the stability of the entire southern African region, but he rejected calls for sanctions against Mugabe’s regime.

Cook told the British Broadcasting Corp. that other African countries must become involved if the crisis is to be solved.

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