Militant black ex-guerrillas claim they are ready to go back to war in the bush and would even fight to overthrow President Robert Mugabe if his government thwarts their seizures of white-owned farms.
"We have a history of fighting for our land. We have reached a point of no return," said Agrippa Gava, a director of the Liberation War Veterans' Association, an organization that claims to represent some 50,000 ex-fighters.
Former fighters of the bush war that led to independence from colonial rule in 1980 and land-hungry squatters have illegally staked claims to plots on 561 farms in the past month.
Gava, addressing a meeting of civic groups and farmers' leaders Thursday, said his organization in January warned Britain that veterans would seize land from the descendants of British settlers unless the former colonial power bought farms and gave them to poor blacks.
The warning, expressed in a letter sent to the British queen, said British authorities could avert a "bloodbath coming up soon" by paying for white land. No acknowledgment was received, Gava said, adding that as long as land ownership imbalances continued "the farmers have built a timebomb for themselves."
About 4,000 white farmers own a third of the nation's productive land. About 1.5 million black families live on the other two-thirds. Earlier, Andrew Ndlovu, a veterans' association official, said ex-fighters loyal to Mugabe's ruling party would overthrow any new government by returning to the bush war if Mugabe was defeated in elections scheduled for April.
Ndlovu said the association would also seize power if the ruling party stopped veterans "repossessing" ancestral lands from whites.
"Should the party fail us, we would rather go into a military government for a period of five years to set things straight," he said.
The veterans' ability to carry out their threats was questioned by the main opposition party Movement for Democractic Change.
Farmers whose properties have been occupied this month say many of those claiming to be veterans were far too young to have fought in the seven-year bush war that ended in 1979, leaving about 40,000 mostly black fighters dead.
Jerry Grant, an official of the Commercial Farmers' Union, said members reported unemployed youths being paid, fed and transported to white farms by ruling party organizers with government vehicles and equipment.
Farmers said law and order has broken down in most farming districts after police failed to evict squatters armed with axes, spears, knives and guns who smashed fences and gates, broke into homesteads and violently threatened farmers and their families.
There have been no reports of serious injuries. David Hasluck, director of the farmers' union, said farm occupations escalated after Mugabe announced Friday on state television that the squatters could stay.
Mugabe said the invasions were a political protest against the government's defeat in a February referendum that would have allowed it to hasten land seizures without paying compensation.
Gava, the veterans' leader, insisted Thursday voters were bought "with sweets and sugar" by whites and opposition groups to vote "no" in the referendum.
Moses Tekere, an economics lecturer at the Zimbabwe university in Harare, said many blacks were insulted by Gava's and the government's inferences.
"Are they saying the 55 percent of people who voted against Mugabe cannot think for themselves?" Tekere said.Reuse content