Land grabs in Zimbabwe turn violent

President Robert Mugabe yesterday urged thousands of people who have occupied white-owned farms to defend the takeovers as the two-month crisis turned deadly. A white farmer and two opposition party members who attempted to rescue him were killed.

The plea came after about 80 farmers and their families evacuated the Macheke district as squatters went on a rampage after the killing of farmer David Stevens. The Commercial Farmers Union advised farmers to take refuge in the capital, Harare, or Marondera, the provincial center.

Mr. Mugabe, returning from an economic summit in Cuba, declared he won't order squatters led by war veterans to leave white-owned farms, and he vowed to ignore a High Court ruling ordering police to evict them.

More than 900 white-owned farms have been occupied since February. thousands of squatters armed with clubs, axes, and guns have invaded the farms and demanded the farmers turn over their land. On Saturday, a group of former guerrillas in the bush war that led to Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 vowed to continue the takeovers.

Mugabe's stance and the death of Mr. Stevens marks a sharp escalation of the crisis that has driven this former British colony ito the brink of anarchy.

Mugabe has described the occupations as a justified protest against the ownership of one-third of the nation's productive land by the descendants of British settlers. His comments yesterday flew in the face of an appeal by his government on Friday for an end to the stalemate and for the squatters to peacefully abandon the properties. Some squatters have admitted being paid by ruling-party activists.

The British government yesterday said it will complain to Zimbabwe's ambassador over the farmer's death.

Speaking in India, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said the violence "is exactly what we feared would be the result of the breakdown of the rule of law in Zimbabwe." Mr. Cook said Britain would demand "that the government stop the occupation of the farms before there are any more deaths. We will also be demanding that those responsible for this murder are found and are charged."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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