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Zimbabwe Farmers Said Intimidated

April 13, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ White farm owners whose property has been occupied by black squatters accused ruling party supporters on Wednesday of targeting farm workers in a fresh wave of intimidation.

The ruling party of President Robert Mugabe has supported the farm occupations, but many black farm workers have defended the farm owners’ property. This weekend, ruling party supporters held what they called ``re-education″ meetings in farm workers’ homes, using force to try to change their loyalties, the farmers’ spokesman Malcolm Vowles said.

``There is a pattern of intimidation and witch-hunting in the compounds at night. We have information on three cases of serious assaults on workers, using sticks and fists,″ said Vowles, a spokesman for the Commercial Farmers Union that represents many of the white farmers. Those attacks occurred in the Bindura area, a tobacco and corn district 50 miles northeast of Harare, he said.

In Nearby Murewa, squatters on Wednesday seized and burned T-shirts with symbols of the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition group. The squatters said white farmers backed the opposition group, witnesses said. The union also reported that squatters backed by the ruling party smashed several private vehicles and a tractor on a farm southwest of Harare on Tuesday.

Last week, the union reported more than 50 cases of violence against farmers and workers.

Squatters led by armed men claiming to be veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war have illegally occupied and staked claims to more than 900 white-owned farms.

With opposition mounting to his two decades of rule, Mugabe has backed the illegal occupations, arguing they are a justified protest against unfair land ownership. About 4,000 white farmers own one-third of Zimbabwe’s productive land, while most blacks remain landless and impoverished.

At the Group of 77 summit in Cuba, Mugabe blamed Britain for reneging on promises of funding for land reform.

The problem ``worsened only because the Labor government has not wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Conservative government,″ Mugabe said Wednesday, asserting that the previous British government had been moving toward assistance on the land issue.

Also Wednesday, the government said it has canceled a planned independence anniversary celebration featuring military parades, tribal dancing and sports displays to save money.

April 18 is the 20th anniversary of independence from white rule. But it comes as Zimbabwe faces its worst economic crisis and the violent farm occupations continue unchecked by police.

Munyaradzi Hwengwere, a spokesman in Mugabe’s office, said this year’s celebrations would be replaced by a nationwide television broadcast featuring Mugabe. He said the money would be diverted to help victims of recent floods in southern and eastern Zimbabwe.

``It’s going to the more needy sections of our society,″ he said.

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