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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"The police argued they couldn't enforce the law"
 real 28k

Farmer Alex Van Leenhoff
"It is unbelievable what they can resort to - a mass of beatings and threats"
 real 28k

UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook
"Elections must proceed"
 real 28k

Monday, 10 April, 2000, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Zimbabwe 'powder keg' warning
Chenjerai Hunzvi
Veterans' leader Chenjerai Hunzvi moves on to another farm
Zimbabwe's top legal official has warned that any attempt to evict squatters from white-owned farms could spark a civil war.


At the end of the day any order issued by this court ordering the evictions will be unenforceable

Patrick Chinamasa
Attorney-General Patrick Chinamasa told the High Court that the nation was a powder keg which would explode if police attempted to enforce a court order to remove thousands of government supporters from hundreds of farms.

A lawyer representing commercial farmers responded by accusing the attorney-general and the police commissioner of tearing up Zimbabwe's constitution and denying white people the protection of the law.

Hundreds of farms have been occupied since February in a campaign of aggressive land redistribution backed by President Robert Mugabe - forcing increasing numbers of whites to abandon their properties.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg have expressed their strong concern at the political turmoil in the country and offered to send observers to elections due next month.

The High Court in the capital, Harare, has said it will rule by Thursday on the application by the police to overturn the eviction order.

'Unenforceable' order

The attorney-general has acknowledged that the farm invasions by the squatters were unlawful, but said the court order was simply unenforceable and that the matter should be dealt with politically.

Marion Herud
Marion Herud: Chased off her farm
Mr Chinamasa says there are 60,000 involved in the occupations, a figure disputed by the Commercial Farmers' Union, which represents those white-owned farms under siege. It says only 6,000 are taking part and the numbers are being inflated to give the police an excuse not to intervene.

Zimbabwe's courts ordered police to evict the squatters when the mass invasions began in February. But the police have failed to act.

The CFU has asked the court to order the police to enforce the rule of law.

President Mugabe has said that the UK, Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler, should pay white farmers compensation for the seized land.

The UK minister responsible for relations with Africa, Peter Hain, said the money would be available, but only if Zimbabwe came up with a programme to make land ownership more fair.

Abandon

Attacks by supporters of President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party have led increasing numbers of Zimbabwe's white farmers to abandon their homesteads.


I have no future - I have told my children they must look to make their future outside Zimbabwe

White farmer Alex van Leenhoff
In Karoi, 250km (155 miles) west of Harare, Alex van Leenhoff signed away half the 400 hectare (960 acre) farm he bought in 1978, after he was attacked by a group claiming to be veterans of the 1970s liberation war.

"I have no future. I have told my children they must look to make their future outside Zimbabwe," he said.

Mr van Leenhoff said he signed the document after he was beaten and whipped, in front of his wife and children, by a group which occupied the farm on Friday.

In Mazowe, near Harare, Pam Mullins and her 16-year-old son packed up and fled the cottage they had rented for three years on a farm now taken over by veterans.

Opposition rally
Political tensions are rising ahead of elections in May
"We are moving to town because at this stage it's the best place to be. We are concerned about our security," she said. But Agripah Gava, director of the War Veterans Association, said many whites had co-operated and accepted the situation.

"It's only a few incidents where some farmers have instigated their workers to resist," he said.

"In the majority, commercial farmers know what is happening and have accepted it."

Reports from Harare say white office workers have also been harassed recently - with some keeping a bag in their offices in case they are taken to prison.

EU agenda

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg have urged President Mugabe's government "to enforce the rule of law".

The situation in Zimbabwe was considered at the request of Britain, which has condemned the occupation of white-owned farms.

Our correspondent says several of the EU ministers referred to the possibility of starting consultations on the suspension of aid.

But the meeting decided the priority now was to restore stability and ensure elections next month were free and fair.

The ministers said they were willing to send observers to monitor the poll but it's not clear if Mr Mugabe will accept the offer.

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See also:

10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Cook demands 'rule of law' in Zimbabwe
10 Apr 00 | Africa
Kenyan land grab call
08 Apr 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Making martyrs in Harare
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