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The BBC's Ben Brown reports from Harare
"It is far too dangerous to approach by road"
 real 28k

The BBC's Greg Barrow reports from Marondera:
"Farmers are gathering to discuss security"
 real 28k

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
"I fear it will get worse"
 real 28k

Sunday, 16 April, 2000, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Killings deepen Zimbabwe crisis
Mr Mugabe is greeted by supporters at Harare airport
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has returned home from an international summit in Cuba amid escalating political violence.

A white farmer and two opposition supporters were killed on Saturday, in violence that is being blamed on Mr Mugabe's followers.

He greeted hundreds of cheering supporters with a raised fist as they welcomed him at Harare airport, and said he would not order war veterans to stop their illegal occupations of white-owned farms.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has deplored the killing of the white farmer and called on the Zimbabwean authorities to halt the occupations.

But John Nkomo, chairman of the ruling Zanu-PF party, told BBC News Online's Talking Point On Air that the British bore responsibility for the land dispute.

Although he accepted his responsibility for the violence, as a government minister, he said black Zimbabweans deserved a better deal.

"The blacks in Zimbabwe were deprived of their land, and nobody complained," he said.

Zimbabwe's High Commissioner in London, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, said he regretted the farmer's murder following a summons to the British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain.

Crisis point

Prior to the meeting, Mr Hain said he would tell Mr Mumbengegwi that the situation had reached crisis point and the Zimbabwean authorities must restore the rule of law.

The farmer, David Stevens, was shot dead in an incident east of the capital, Harare.

He was among six who were abducted by war veterans and black squatters.

Police have meanwhile confirmed that two people were killed in political violence in eastern Zimbabwe on Saturday night.

Mugabe speaks to supporters

They gave no further details, but a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said the two MDC activists were returning from a rally when their car was petrol-bombed by Zanu-PF party supporters.

The killings represent a serious escalation of the political crisis, which has seen hundreds of white-owned farms occupied by squatters, who include many veterans of the country's war for independence.

Commercial Farmers' Union officials say Mr Stevens was killed during an incident involving a group of farmers who responded to a radio distress call from a neighbour in the Virginia Macheke district.

One, John Osborne, managed to escape and gave an account of the shooting.

He said he, Mr Stevens and another farmer were chased and shot at before taking refuge in a local police station.

These guys are not playing, they are deadly serious, and they are out of control.

John Osborne

Men claiming to be war veterans followed them in, handcuffed them and took them away to a nearby farm, where they were beaten.

He and Mr Stevens were then bundled into a car and taken to another place, where Mr Stevens - the father of two-year-old twins - was shot dead at point blank range.

Mr Osborne, who is currently in hospital in the provincial centre of Marondera, said he himself was only spared because someone spoke up for him.

He said the police had done nothing to prevent the violence.

The other four farmers involved in the incident escaped after being severely beaten.


BBC correspondent Greg Barrow says farmers in the Virginia Macheke district believe they have been targeted because of their alleged support for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

John Osborne
John Osborne was spared by the mob
They say the struggle in the countryside is no longer about land, but about settling political differences.

At least 50 white families have fled the area.

Local police are reported to have told the farmers they could no longer guarantee their security.

The UK Government has said it is ready to help fund the transfer of white-owned farms to landless blacks, but says most land reform measures have so far benefited only Mugabe government "cronies".

But Mr Nkomo said the UK had to give more money to solve the problem.

"The current Zimbabwean government doesn't have the resources to pay for the land," he said.

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See also:

16 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Cook summons Zimbabwe official
15 Apr 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe war veterans defiant
16 Apr 00 | Africa
In pictures: Veterans' rally
15 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Plea to challenge Mugabe
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