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Zimbabwe Farms Occupation Persists

March 9, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ The occupation of white-owned farms by ex-guerrillas persisted in most areas Thursday, but police managed to persuade some squatters to leave, a farmers’ union said.

Ten days after the most recent wave of land invasions began, squatters led by black former guerrillas of the bush war that led to independence in 1980 still were camped on 333 farms, the Commercial Farmers’ Union said.

The squatters are demanding land promised to them by the government under a program to resettle impoverished black families on land owned by the descendants of British settlers.

The invaders are angry about the rejection in February of a referendum on a revised constitution that would have permitted seizure of white-owned farms without compensation.

The land invasions have caused hundreds of millions of Zimbabwe dollars worth of crop losses and damage to homes, farm equipment, timber reserves, fencing and rural infrastructure, the union said.

Assailants have smashed their way into farmers’ homesteads and stolen food and furniture. No injuries or arrests have been reported.

Squatters have ignored two police deadlines to return to their villages. So far, police has refused to use force to evict them from private land.

In some areas, police were talking to the invaders in an effort to make them leave, while in other areas, nothing was being done, the union said.

``People are moving off some farms and onto others,″ it said.

A week ago, President Robert Mugabe described the invasions as democratic demonstrations against unfair land ownership dating back to the colonial era that guerrillas fought to end.

About 4,000 white farmers own one-third of the nation’s productive land and produce the bulk of its marketed crops. Land redistribution by the state has been plagued by mismanagement and corruption since independence.

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