Freed white farmers in Zimbabwe ordered leave their homes

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- White farmers ordered by Zimbabwean courts to leave their land by Tuesday loaded their belongings on trucks and were looking for places to stay, union leaders said.

"It is a desperately sad situation. People are loading up their assets to move out. Many have nowhere to go and are looking for places to stay," said Ben Freeth, a district official for the Commercial Farmers Union, which represents 4,000 white farmers.

Nearly 200 white farmers have been arrested since Thursday for defying government eviction orders. Most were freed on bail and told by courts to pack and leave or face arrest again, the union said.

Freeth said at least 21 farmers were released Monday.

Of 96 white-owned farms in the district, three were still operating Tuesday, Freeth said. Most displaced farmers owned a single property but were forced off their land despite promises by the government none would be deprived of their only homes or livelihood.

"Ethnic cleansing is exactly what it is. There's no other term for it," Freeth said.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said Tuesday police had arrested 197 farmers across the country for defying government notices to quit their farms by Aug.9.

They were charged with violating laws giving them 90 days from May to close their affairs and leave their properties.

Most of those released posted bail of $15 to $30.

Farmers refusing to leave their land face up to two years in jail and a fine. Many are contesting the legality of the eviction orders.

The increasingly unpopular government of President Robert Mugabe plans to seize nearly 5,000 farms -- 95 percent of properties owned by whites -- saying they are to be distributed to landless blacks.

Farmers' lawyers believe the orders violate constitutional rights of freedom from racial discrimination, and contain technical errors, rendering them invalid.

The government says the land seizures are meant to correct the remnants of colonialism that left about 4,500 whites owning one-third of the nation's farmland, while 7 million black farmers shared the rest.

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