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U.S. Hits Zimbabwe Farm Evictions

August 10, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The State Department on Saturday denounced Zimbabwe’s attempt to evict all of its 1,800 white farmers and thousands of farm workers as ``a reckless and reprehensible act.″

The farmers are defying a government order that would give the farms to blacks.

The State Department made no reference to race in deploring the ordered evictions. A statement urged the African government to reverse itself.

``These actions by the government of Zimbabwe, in combination with its assault on its political opponents, have destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy, undermined the nation’s democratic institutions and accelerated the onset of severe food shortages facing Zimbabwe and the region,″ the statement said.

At the same time, ``The United States recognizes the need for genuine land reform in Zimbabwe and would support a rational and equitable program to this end,″ the statement said.

The evictions were to have taken effect at midnight Thursday. A few hours before the deadline, a court ruled the evictions illegal if government officials failed to notify banks holding mortgages on affected farms.

Most whites fled Zimbabwe as blacks took control of the formerly white-ruled Rhodesia in 1980 with the encouragement of the United States and other Western nations.

Those who remained have been threatened, and some killed, as President Robert Mugabe attempted to seize the fertile land. Mugabe is the only leader the former British colony has had.

Questions have been raised whether the seizure would help poor blacks. Critics contend the land would be turned over to Mugabe’s political supporters.

Touching on this argument, the department said ``credible reports of senior political and security figures assuming ownership of expropriated commercial farms further reveals the cynicism of Mugabe’s so-called land reform program.″

Though farmers reported no serious moves against them since the deadline for their eviction passed, senior officials on Saturday appeared infuriated that their orders were being ignored.

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