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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Airlift plan for Zimbabwe Britons
UK national evacuating Zimbabwe in 1990
Many UK nationals fled Zimbabwe at independence
Plans are being put in place to airlift thousands of UK citizens out of Zimbabwe if their lives are put in danger.

Many of them are living in fear as President Robert Mugabe's campaign to forcibly take the majority of white farmland continues.

British officials have confirmed that "contingency plans" are being drawn up.

But they say such plans are routine and only intended to be used if conditions rapidly deteriorate.

British officials would not comment on newspaper reports that an armoured convoy could take refugees travelling east into Mozambique and south into South Africa.

But a spokesman for the Foreign Office in London confirmed to BBC News Online that the plans detailed many possible emergency evacuation options, including airlifts.

An unidentified farmer surveys the damage caused to his farmhouse in the Chinhoyi farming area
Many farms have been attacked, some destroyed
"These plans are regularly reviewed, there are plans in place in just about every country in the world as part of the routine work the British High Commissions and embassies do," he said.

He added that Zimbabwe was not considered "anywhere near a situation" where such plans would be carried out.

He said rumours that British troops are amassing in countries neighbouring Zimbabwe were "completely false".

And he also denied that the EU was working in concert to protect its citizens.

"It's standard practice to keep in touch with other EU missions," he said, "but it's nothing more formal than that."

President Robert Mugabe
President Mugabe: Land reform policy continues
About 25,000 UK nationals are registered with the High Commission in Zimbabwe, although there may be more living in the country without having registered.

The FCO spokesman said any worried nationals could ring the commission for advice.

He added that the commission was not offering any specific instructions "in relation to what's going on at the moment".

Many UK nationals stayed in Zimbabwe following its independence from the UK in 1980, on the request of President Mugabe.

About 60 white farms have been destroyed by militants so far.

The situation intensified recently, with clashes in the Chinhoyi region northwest of Harare, between white farmers and government supporters who had invaded a farm.

Violence recently intensified in Chinhoyi
Zimbabwe's High Court has again postponed a decision on bail for 21 farmers detained after the clashes.

BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar, speaking from Johannesburg in South Africa - the BBC is banned from reporting from Zimbabwe - said many white farmers who are also UK passport holders do not want to leave Zimbabwe.

"Even when the violence was at its height white farmers have evacuated only their property, and not left the country," he said.

"All their wealth is in the land and they have nothing to take with them to start again."

See also:

14 Aug 01 | Africa
Fleeing Zimbabwe violence
02 Aug 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe targets more white farms
15 Aug 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe frees four journalists
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