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Zimbabwe Farm Occupations To End

April 13, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ The Harare High Court today ruled that the government and police must bring an end to black squatters’ occupations of white-owned farms.

The court called an urgent hearing after the Commercial Farmers’ Union, representing white farm owners, demanded action in districts where more than 900 farms have been occupied for months.

Police have so far failed to evict the squatters, led by armed men claiming to be veterans of the bush war that led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980.

The court rejected police claims they had insufficient men or equipment to enforce property laws.

Judge Moses Chinenga dismissed an application by Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri that an earlier High Court order to evict the squatters be modified.

``The rule of law has to be upheld,″ he said.

The government has said it feared police action to force out squatters armed with knives, spears clubs and guns could trigger civil war.

Officials said the 20,000-strong police force estimated they would be pitted against at least 50,000 squatters claiming land occupied by the descendants of British settlers.

With opposition mounting to his two decades of rule, President Robert 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.

Many black farm workers, however, have defended the farm owners’ property and cases of violence have broken out.

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