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Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Zimbabwe land conflict escalates
Farm occupation
War veterans are being blamed for the looting
Farmers in Zimbabwe say widespread looting and destruction of white-owned property have been continuing without respite around the northern town of Chinhoyi.

The head of the Commercial Farmers' Union, Colin Cloete, told the BBC that marauding bands of government supporters were wreaking havoc on the town, and more and more farms were being blatantly pillaged.


I make a heartfelt plea to the ministers and police chiefs who took an oath of allegiance to protect all the citizens of Zimbabwe, to swiftly and decisively avoid further destruction

White farmers' leader
He issued an impassioned appeal to the government to act swiftly to restore law and order.

The trouble in Chinhoyi began last week after the arrest of a group of white farmers accused of beating up government supporters who had invaded a farm belonging to a white farmer.

The farmers are in jail awaiting a court appearance on Tuesday.

On Saturday, President Mugabe repeated his government's determination to press ahead with the expropriation of white farmland despite the threat of sanctions from the United States and other Western countries.

Lawlessness

BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar says the Chinhoyi region has become so volatile and dangerous over the past week that independent Zimbabweans and foreign journalists are finding it virtually impossible to gain access.

Some of the farmers arrested following clashes in Chinhoyi
Twenty-one white farmers are in police custody
Colin Cloete said the state of lawlessness had reached a height that could only be contained by swift action, and made a direct appeal to President Mugabe.

"I make a heartfelt plea to the ministers and police chiefs who took an oath of allegiance to protect all the citizens of Zimbabwe, to swiftly and decisively avoid further destruction," he said.

On Friday, 21 whites were denied bail after being charged with violence and assault following clashes with a group of squatters in Chinhoyi.

But on Saturday Mr Mugabe warned white farmers against organising attacks on black squatters.

"We will proceed with land reform with or without their cooperation, with or without sanctions. Let that be known here and abroad," he said.

Mr Mugabe also accused white farmers of lobbying the United States and Europe to impose sanctions.

Last week, the US Senate approved and passed on to Congress a bill that threatens sanctions unless the Zimbabwean Government respects democratic rule and law and order, and carries out a legalised land reform programme.

Racist

President Mugabe denounced the sanctions threat as racist and aimed at thwarting his efforts to "correct colonial imbalances".

"What is our crime? Our crime is that we are black and in America blacks are a condemned race. We are a black government with a European community, the whites," a visibly angry Mr Mugabe told several thousand supporters.

But the BBC correspondent says black farm workers often face an even worse fate than the whites, and there are reports of many of them being beaten up and chased by government militants.

Zimbabwe has been plunged into political and economic crisis for the past 18 months after a government-backed campaign of land seizures began.

Many occupations have been carried out by self-styled war veterans.

The government has targeted more than two-thirds of the land owned by whites - some 4,600 farms - for confiscation.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rageh Omaar
"President Mugabe faces the threat of sanctions from the European Union and the United States"
Farm owner, Jeremy Brown, in Harare
"I am optimistic I can hold onto my farm"
The BBC's Sue MacGregor
speaks to a Zimbabwean, forced to abandon her farm at short notice
See also:

10 Aug 01 | Africa
Farmers flee 'war vet' attacks
06 Aug 01 | Africa
Mbeki admits Zimbabwe failure
02 Aug 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe targets more white farms
09 Mar 01 | Africa
Violence haunts white farmers
04 Jul 00 | Africa
Forced to flee Zimbabwe
10 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Zimbabwe's descent into violence
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