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Zimbabwe Militants Abduct Farmer

December 7, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Militants from Zimbabwe’s ruling party abducted a white farmer and forced him to drive them to President Robert Mugabe’s office during a dispute about land they seized, the union that represents the country’s white farmers said Thursday.

The militants said they wanted Mugabe to intervene to stop farmer Lance Kennedy from planting crops on land they claimed for themselves, said Malcolm Vowles, a spokesman for the Commercial Farmers Union.

Armed troops and police guarding Mugabe’s complex of offices and meeting rooms refused to let the group of 20 militants in Wednesday. The militants forced Kennedy to sit in his truck outside the gate for two hours.

The abduction on Mugabe’s doorstep and in front of police was another sign of increasing lawlessness in the southern African nation, where order started breaking down in February in a racially tinged land dispute.

Several thousand whites own about one-third of the productive land in Zimbabwe, which also supports 2 million farm workers and their families. About 7.5 million blacks live on the remaining two-thirds. Since February, though, ruling party militants have illegally and violently occupied about 1,700 white-owned farms, squatting on the land and disrupting farm production.

In Wednesday’s incident, police persuaded the militants to return to Kennedy’s farm about 20 miles northwest of Harare and escorted them there, freeing the farmer to enter his homestead.

Kennedy was shaken by the incident. He reported it to the union, but refused to discuss it with reporters out of fear of reprisals.

``It’s dangerous,″ he told The Associated Press.

Six white farmers have been murdered since the occupations began.

It was not clear whether the militant group that abducted Kennedy was armed. But the ruling party militants and farm squatters _ many veterans of the bush war that ended white rule here in 1980 _ are usually armed with knives, clubs and sometimes guns.

Wednesday’s incident heightened tension in the Nyabira wheat, corn and tobacco district where militants led by Mugabe’s sister, Sabina, have been active, Vowles said.

Mugabe’s sister, a ruling party lawmaker for the neighboring Zvimba district, has been exhorting followers to seize private land she has toured in her luxury Mercedes. Last month, she led a group of 30 militants who disrupted work and seized 900 acres on a nearby farm partly owned by Kennedy’s father.

Mugabe has described the illegal occupation of white-owned land as a justified protest against disparities in land ownership in the former British colony of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence.

The government has also begun confiscating some of the 3,000 white-owned farms, which it says it will carve up and hand over to landless blacks. It has ignored two court orders to clear militants and squatters from private land and end the violent disruptions of farm production.

The nation’s Supreme Court has declared the government land resettlement program illegal because its ``fast track″ seizures do not follow legal procedures on land reform passed by Mugabe’s ruling party in April.

Update hourly