Black farm workers attacked by Zimbabwe squatter mobs

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The Independent Online

Mobs have assaulted and threatened black farm workers and torched a tobacco barn in eastern Zimbabwe, according to a local farmers union.

An unspecified number of workers were being treated at a hospital in Marondera, 45 miles east of Harare, the Commercial Farmers Union said. The extent of their injuries was unclear.

"It seems the intention now is to intimidate workers," said Tim Henwood, head of the union that represents what had happened to a worker abducted on Sunday evening by violent squatters, he said.

Political violence has plagued Zimbabwe for more than a month, but unlike in earlier cases, police now calmed down the situation by being present, Henwood said.

"They are taking an active role. There has been a definite change in the last 48 hours," he said.

Police have ordered squatters camped outside a homestead near Mvurwi, 75 miles north of Harare to leave. The squatters left without incident, freeing farm manager Duncan Hamilton and two women who were trapped in the house overnight, Henwood said. Hamilton, his girlfriend and another friend were unharmed.

Police had been ordered by the government not to intervene in the illegal occupation of land on more than 1,000 white-owned farms by armed squatters that began in February.

A convoy of about 45 farmers and their families have now been escorted back to the Macheke district near Marondera. The convoy stopped at each farm to ensure it was safe for the family to stay before moving on.

The rest of the about 80 families who evacuated Macheke after the abduction and shooting of farmer David Stevens on April 15 still stayed away from their homes.

The funeral of Stevens, a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, is scheduled for Tuesday.

Some farmers in the Mvurwi district vacated their homes Sunday after being warned some reputed war veterans were roaming the district with firearms, Henwood said.

The government denied it's supporters were behind Saturday's bomb attack targeting the office of Zimbabwe's only independent newspaper.

"The blast was done by people who wanted to tarnish Zimbabwe internationally," said Information Minister Chen Chimutengwende.

A small explosive device shattered the shop window of a gallery adjacent to offices of The Daily News, which has been sharply critic of the government for not clamping down on political violence. No one was injured.

Chimutengwende denied the government targeted Date them," he said.

Editor Geoff Nyarota said in Monday's edition that he received a written death threat last week. The sender, an unknown group calling itself The Revival of African Conscience, protested the newspaper's coverage of political violence, its "lack of respect" and attempts to ridicule Mugabe.

The death threat was reported to police on Wednesday, Nyarota said.

"It is a cornerstone of our editorial policy that diversity of opinion shall be encouraged, but no one feels safe in these circumstances," he said, adding that the paper would continue to promote the voicing of different opinions.

The newspaper was founded last year by mainly foreign media investors.

Two Daily News reporters visiting white-owned farms illegally occupied by squatters earlier this month were abducted and robbed earlier by men claiming to be veterans of the bush war that led to Zimbabwe's independence in 1980.

The reporters were released unharmed. Chenjerai Hunzvi, head of the National Liberation War Veterans Association, argued they were biased against his organizations and the ruling party.

Opponents of the government accuse Mugabe of allowing the violent occupation of white-owned farms to shore up his flagging popularity ahead of nation elections expected to be called in May. Opponents also argue Mugabe wants to punish farmers for supporting the opposition.

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