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Zimbabwe Says It Allowed Invasions

March 2, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Zimbabwe admitted Thursday it had allowed ex-guerrillas to take over white farms, but said it ordered the squatters to leave by Saturday after some became violent.

The squatters, led by former combatants from Zimbabwe’s bush war for independence, ``could not be denied their democratic right to demonstrate″ by storming onto at least 70 private properties in the past week, Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa said.

If the squatters did not withdraw by early Saturday, police would remove them, said Dabengwa, who oversees the country’s police forces.

``It’s no longer necessary for them to continue with their demonstrations,″ Dabengwa said, claiming the government was now able to assure ex-guerrillas they will finally get land, 20 years after the country won independence in 1980.

The administration of President Roberto Mugabe seems intent, however, on wresting that land from the white farmers.

Earlier Thursday, the government said it will change the nation’s constitution to allow it to seize white-owned farms without paying compensation _ despite the fact that the same proposal was defeated in a February referendum.

Zimbabwe’s Parliament could approve a constitutional amendment to that effect before the April general election.

``The state is once again acting in bad faith. It shows the government is not committed to a broad-based constitutional reform process,″ said Brian Kagoro, spokesman for the National Constitutional Assembly, a coalition of opposition, human rights and civic groups.

Tired of waiting for the government to slowly buy white-owned land and distribute it to poor black farmers, in the last week squatters armed with axes, knives, clubs, spears and some guns have taken over homesteads.

Some have assaulted occupants, hacked down trees, plowed through crops and disrupted harvests and reaping.

Asked if trespassing on private property with weapons was illegal, Dabengwa said: ``I suppose it is.″

The National Constitutional Assembly described the invasions as a ruthless ploy organized by Mugabe’s ruling party to shore up its flagging support ahead of the April elections.

Farm invasions severely disrupted reaping and curing of tobacco the Commercial Farmers’ Union said. Tobacco is the nation’s biggest hard-currency earner.

Since 1980, a land reform program has fallen far short of its targets and has been plagued by mismanagement and corruption, with prime properties bought by the state going to politicians and their cronies.

The worst economic crisis since independence, including continuing fuel shortages and mounting hard currency debts, have posed the biggest threat to Mugabe’s hold on power.

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