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Whites’ Farms in Zimbabwe Vacated

March 4, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Some former guerrillas gave in to a government ultimatum Saturday and vacated white-owned farms, while others defied the threat and seized other property.

Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa had set a Saturday deadline for the ex-insurgents to leave the white-owned farms or face expulsion by police.

There were no immediate reports of measures to remove the squatters still in place. President Robert Mugabe had expressed sympathy for the ex-guerrillas this week, saying they were engaged in ``peaceful and lawful demonstrations.″

Veterans of the rebel-led drive for Zimbabwean independence from Britain in the 1970s reportedly withdrew from farms in the Norton and Enterise valleys, while others occupied properties in the Zimbabwean Midlands and the Troutbeck resort area in the eastern highlands.

David Hasluck, executive director of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, said the number of farms involved doubled Friday from 70 to 142.

On Thursday, Dabengwa said the squatters, angered by recent rejection of a new constitution that would have permitted seizure of white farms without compensation, had exceeded the bounds of ``peaceful political protest.″

Despite overwhelming rejection by voters of Mugabe’s planned new constitution, the president plans to reintroduce the land provision in 30 days as an amendment to the current constitution.

Since farm invasions began a week ago, fences have been smashed, farmers and workers beaten, and millions of dollars worth of export crops left to rot in fields and barns.

``It is getting worse,″ said Henry Elsworth, a rancher near Kwekwe. ``The police are completely powerless to do anything and if they tried they’d be massacred.″

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