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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2007, 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK
Blow for defiant Zimbabwe farmers
White farmer in Zimbabwe
The land reform programme has been accompanied by violence
Eleven of Zimbabwe's remaining white farmers are to go on trial for defying a state eviction order after losing a bid to have the charges thrown out.

The magistrate in Chegutu, south-west of Harare, reportedly accused the farmers of delaying tactics and ordered them to leave their land immediately.

A white farmers' group said the ruling was a "farce" and accused authorities of failing to follow due process.

Fewer than 400 white farmers are thought to remain in Zimbabwe.

The seizure of some 4,000 white-owned farms has seen a collapse in Zimbabwe's agricultural production.

Notices ignored

The farmers appeared in court on Thursday, having failed to respect a 30 September deadline to leave their properties, reported the news agency AFP.

Their lawyer, David Drury, put forward two arguments: first, that the charges of defying the government eviction order should be thrown out; second, that if not, the case should be referred to the Supreme Court because it touched on constitutional issues.

But the magistrate rejected both arguments.

"Despite being served with eviction notices they took no action but [decided] to ignore them, only to raise issues after the expiry and after appearing before a magistrate's court facing criminal charges," said magistrate Tinashe Ndokera, reported AFP.

"I am persuaded to agree with the state [prosecutor] that it's a delaying tactic and that there is no seriousness but a mere attempt to buy time through abuse of process. I dismiss the application."

The farmers could face up to two years in jail if found guilty, say reports.

The case provoked an angry response from Justice for Agriculture, which represents white farmers in Zimbabwe.

Its spokesman John Worsely-Worswick told the BBC that that over the past year nearly 100 farmers had been driven off their land by armed soldiers, police and the ruling Zanu-PF party's youth brigades.

However, Minister of Agriculture Rugare Gumbo told the BBC the state was using the law legitimately to redistribute land.

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