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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 17:35 GMT
Court victory for Zimbabwe farmer
Farmer-war-veteran stand-off 150km from Harare
Around 1,700 white-owned farms have been occupied
The first farmer to sue individual Zimbabwean Government ministers over land reform has won a victory in the first stage of his battle to get his farm back.

Guy Watson-Smith launched proceedings against two government ministers and the former head of the national army after he was ordered to leave his farm in early December.

Guy Watson-Smith
Mr Watson-Smith will be allowed to reclaim assets
Last week he also appealed for a relief order allowing him to reclaim machinery, animals and game from his farm, which is on prime land 100km from the capital, Harare.

On Friday the High Court ruled that Mr Watson-Smith should be allowed protection to collect his property from the farm.

In a statement, the farmer welcomed the judge's ruling and said he looked forward to the sheriff going to the farm with police to remove property worth $2.9m.

But the BBC's Alistair Leithead says the decision does not necessarily mean Mr Watson-Smith will be able to return safely.

Safety fears

Mr Watson-Smith will continue his case against the Zimbabwean agriculture minister, a local housing minister, a former commander of the armed forces and a war veteran, from South Africa, where he, his wife and elderly parents are staying with relatives.

"I've come to South Africa with the family because there's an element of danger. We're taking senior government officials to court and the people that I consulted - and my own gut feeling - was that we couldn't take the risk of doing it from within the country," he told the BBC.

The feeling of apprehension and fear in the run-up to the presidential election is growing every day

Zimbabwean farmer Greg Watson-Smith
Mr Watson-Smith said he believes his farm will be given to a high-ranking Zimbabwean official close to the government and not distributed to the poor.

His court action comes amid reports of increasing violence and intimidation, including the recent murders of four opposition members, ahead of the presidential elections due in March.

"Everyone - and I mean all sections of the Zimbabwean community - is holding their breath and waiting for these presidential elections to be over with," he said.

"I think the situation is deteriorating. The violence is most definitely on the increase. The feeling of apprehension and fear in the run-up to the presidential election is growing every day. It's not a happy country."

Farm occupations

President Robert Mugabe's land reform programme has been marred by violence since government supporters, calling themselves war veterans, began occupying white farms 18 months ago demanding that they be redistributed to landless blacks.

An estimated 1,700 white-owned farms have been occupied over the past 18 months, and police have largely failed to stem the accompanying violence.

Last month the country's Supreme Court ruled that the land reform programme complied with the constitution, removing the last remaining legal obstacle preventing the government from processing claims to white-owned farms.

See also:

04 Dec 01 | Africa
Court backs Mugabe land reforms
10 Jun 01 | Africa
Farm invasion threatens business
10 Oct 01 | Business
Zimbabwe slashes food prices
05 Jul 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe admits food crisis
14 Jun 01 | Africa
Anger at Zimbabwe price rises
03 Dec 01 | Africa
Mugabe's election masterplan
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