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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt in Zimbabwe
"A government ruthlessly determined to return to power"
 real 28k

Monday, 24 April, 2000, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Zimbabwe farm workers targeted
Farm workers burnt and beaten
Farm workers burnt and beaten south of Harare
A black farm worker has been set alight, others were beaten and tobacco crops burnt in some of the worst acts of violence related to the invasion of white-owned farms.

About 120km south-east of the capital in Wedze, a marauding gang of government supporters led by so-called war veterans attacked farm labourers and set light to farmworkers' buildings.

Crops on white-owned farms have also been set alight just 5km from the centre of Harare, with a BBC correspondent who flew over the area in a light plane saying it appeared that squatters were marking out plots of land.

The attack happened shortly after farmers elsewhere in the country returned to their land, having reached an agreement with the supporters of President Robert Mugabe who have occupied white farms in recent weeks.



We have been told they beat up several workers and took the foreman away in handcuffs saying they would kill him

Farmers' spokesman

The injured, who are being treated in hospital, say they were assaulted by a group of about 150 war veterans, who told them they would be killed for supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Some farm workers were beaten and at least one was doused in paraffin and set alight.

Our correspondent Greg Barrow says the latest violence has exposed the lie that the invasions and intimidation are entirely about the redistribution of white-owned land.

An equal, if not greater, objective is to destroy any support base for the opposition in the countryside, as President Robert Mugabe's embattled government moves towards a parliamentary election.


MDC supporters
Farmers' support for the MDC angers war veterans
A farmers' spokesman told journalists by telephone that on one farm in Wedze the foreman had been handcuffed and taken away by the demonstrators. The farmer was not on the farm at the time.

The spokesman also said tobacco storage barns were set alight, destroying the farm's entire crop of 110 tonnes.

"I just flew over the place. You can see they have killed cattle and sheep as well," he said.

Farmers close to Harare had been warned to leave their land, before several hundred people armed with staves and axes were bussed to the farms.

Siege ends

Meanwhile farmers in the Mvurwi district, north of Harare, say a farm manager and two women who were trapped in a farmhouse by several hundred war veterans on Sunday are now safe.

The majority of the war veterans have now left the farm in two lorries provided by the farm manager, Duncan Hamilton, whom they had earlier abducted.

Friends of Mr Hamilton say he and the two women are unharmed.

The incident on the Austrian-owned Forester Estate - one of the world's largest tobacco-growing farms - was resolved through negotiations.


Robert Mugabe
The war veterans want to break opposition to President Mugabe
Commitments have been given by the war veterans to move off the farm, and leave only a token presence.

Political task

President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have condemned white farmers for supporting the opposition in rural areas. But the war veterans are breaking that relationship down and removing a growing political threat to the government.

Over the past two months, war veterans and government supporters have illegally occupied more than 1,000 white-owned farms.

On Sunday, white farmers in the Virginia Macheka district returned to their land after reaching an agreement with the squatters.

Virginia Macheka recently saw some of the most severe violence against farmers, including the murder of farmer David Stevens.

As part of the peace agreement, farmers had to promise to stop supporting the MDC.

In another incident on Sunday, about 200 squatters moved onto a farm near Marondera, east of Harare.

Police arrived and the situation remained calm, though not all of the squatters left the land.

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See also:

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Thousands join Zimbabwe march
23 Apr 00 | Media reports
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