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EU Pressures Zimbabwe on Squatters

March 15, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ The European Union urged the Zimbabwe government on Wednesday to evict the hundreds of people squatting on 433 private farms.

The number of black squatters claiming private white-owned land for themselves was escalating, along with ``damage to property, threats and violence that are unacceptable in a democratic country,″ the EU said in a statement in Harare.

``Occupying farms in this way seriously undermines the right of ownership and freedoms guaranteed in the constitution,″ it said.

Squatters armed with spears, axes, knives and guns have invaded 549 farms this month, but have since abandoned 116, farm leaders said.

The EU said the land occupations were likely to hinder farm work and reduce harvests amid an economic crisis and with some food reserves having been destroyed by floods.

The squatters, many of whom are war veterans, are led by former guerrillas in Zimbabwe’s independence war who were angered by last month’s defeat of a national referendum that would have empowered President Robert Mugabe to speed up the seizure of farmland without paying compensation.

Mugabe announced Friday that the squatters could stay on land they occupied. He said the invasions were a political protest against land ownership imbalances dating back to the colonial era in Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence in 1980.

About 4,000 white farmers own a third of the nation’s productive land.

The Commercial Farmers’ Union sued the government Tuesday, asking the High Court to order the evictions.

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