Page last updated at 12:59 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

Zimbabwe 'to arrest land thieves'

Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai has long criticised the land invasions

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has said that anyone invading farms will be arrested - in an apparent challenge to Robert Mugabe.

Mr Tsvangirai said the recent land invasions "are actually acts of theft".

President Mugabe has said that the government would continue to seize white-owned farms as part of his land reform policy.

Veteran opposition leader Mr Tsvangirai joined Mr Mugabe in a power-sharing government last month.

The seizure of white-owned land is one of Mr Mugabe's defining policies but his critics say it has destroyed the economy.

The occupation of farms resumed shortly after the power-sharing government was sworn in, with some accusing hard-line allies of Mr Mugabe of trying to scupper the deal.

I have tasked the minister of home affairs to ensure that all crimes are acted upon and the perpetrators arrested and charged
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai

"This government is aware that most of the ongoing disruptions of agricultural production, which are being done in the name of the land reform process, are actually acts of theft," Mr Tsvangirai told a meeting of diplomats, civic society and business leaders, in one of his first public appearances since the death of his wife in a car crash earlier this month.

"Those continuing to undertake these activities will be arrested and face justice in the courts.

"I have tasked the minister of home affairs to ensure that all crimes are acted upon and the perpetrators arrested and charged."

However, there are two home affairs ministers in the unity administration, as neither side would cede control of the ministry which is responsible for the police.

Last month, Mr Mugabe said there would be "no going back" on land reform, despite a ruling from the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) tribunal last year that the seizures were illegal.

The government's seizure of white-owned land since 2000 was often accompanied by violent invasions by supporters of Mr Mugabe.

Mr Tsvangirai has long criticised the way land reform was carried out.

But a commitment to continue the policy was a key part of the power-sharing agreement.

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