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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
US attacks Zimbabwe 'abuses'
Detained white farmers  in Chinhoyi
A group of white farmers is due in court on Tuesday
The United States has strongly criticised Zimbabwe's Government for "serious human rights abuses" as the looting of white-owned farms continues.

A State Department spokesman said the US was "deeply concerned about the level of political violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe", as well as the country's rapid economic decline.

"The situation is taking a toll on southern Africa as a region and it's discouraging foreign investment, creating a potential for a refugee crisis and food shortages, and reducing trade within the region," he said.

"We condemn the serious human rights abuses and growing climate of fear and intimidation for which the Government of Zimbabwe bears primary responsibility," he added.

Attacks

The statement followed mounting concern about events in northern Zimbabwe, where farming officials now say more than 50 properties have been attacked by marauding bands of government supporters.


At least 300 people have fled white-owned farms.

The Commercial Farmers' Union CFU said it had held frantic talks with Zimbabwe's police to try and stop the anarchy around the northern town of Chinhoyi.

On Monday there were reports of a slight improvement in the situation, after police and paramilitary units moved into the area.

But CFU president Colin Cloete told Reuters news agency it would take time before white families returned.

"It is still not safe. Those people will not go back until they get some sort of assurance," he said.

The BBC is being prevented from sending correspondents into Zimbabwe, and independent reporters have been chased away from Chinhoyi by government supporters.

Earlier there had been reports of squatters breaking into houses, stealing and then setting fire to property.

Throughout Zimbabwe's land crisis the police have been criticised by for failing to stop the encroachments onto white-owned farms, which are backed by the Zimbabwean Government.

But police said on Monday that they had increased their patrols, arrested 12 looters and had recovered substantial property in the area.

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.

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.

President Mugabe:
President Mugabe: Seeking re-election next year
President Mugabe has denounced the sanctions threat as racist and aimed at thwarting his efforts to "correct colonial imbalances".

Zimbabwe has been plunged into political and economic crisis for the past 18 since 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.

The land invasions are widely seen as a ploy by Mr Mugabe to overcome the threat of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, with presidential elections due by 2002.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rageh Omaar
'On the roads the cars carrying the fleeing families"
Colin Cloete, Commercial Farmers Union
"We're not bothered with land redistribution, just the methods that are being used"
Philip Changwa, MP from Zanu PF party
"The farmers are resisting any land resettlement programme"
See also:

14 Aug 01 | Africa
Fleeing Zimbabwe violence
14 Aug 01 | Cricket
England tour in doubt
12 Aug 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe land conflict escalates
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
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