Ian Smith takes conciliatory line on invasion of his cattle farm by 50 men

About 50 men have invaded the cattle farm of Ian Smith, the former prime minister of Rhodesia, Mr Smith said yesterday from his home in Harare.

The invasion of Mr Smith'sarid 6,000-acre ranch near Shurugwe, 130 miles south-west of Harare, is one incident in weeks of government-backed violence, but it reflects the racially charged context of the land crisis and its pattern of government promises for a settlement followed by fresh violence and farm occupations.

Mr Smith, who was not on the farm when it was invaded on Saturday, said he did notbelieve the raid was by government supporters or war veterans, who have seized more than 1,100 commercial farms since February. "I don't want to provoke. I'm not looking for trouble. My farm is the very category of land the government said it wouldn't touch. I have only one farm. It is one of the most highly productive in the area," he said, referring to the government's declaration to seize land only from people with multiple farms, suitable for sub-division.

Mr Smith, 80, was Prime Minister of Rhodesia from 1964 to 1979, and led the breakaway regime that resisted British moves towards independence. He famously said that whites would rule for 1,000 years. "I think it [the invasions] is sad because it is bringing our country into disrepute. We have always been the breadbasket of central Africa. But if we go on like this we will be beggars and not givers," he said yesterday.

On Friday, President Robert Mugabe pledged to defuse the crisis by forming a committee to plan land redistribution. But on Saturday, armed war veterans and police chased away would-be participants in a Harare peace rally and the state-owned Herald newspaper announced that the citizenship and passports of thousands of Zimbabweans of British origin would be withdrawn because of a technicality concerning how they had renounced British citizenship in the mid-1980s.

The Amani Trust, a Harare organisation offering help to victims of torture and violence, says there have been more than 5,000 acts of rape, murder, the destruction of property and assault, against opponents of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

The number of dead rose to 20 yesterday. John Weeks, a farmer near Beatrice, 32 miles south of Harare, who was shot in the stomach late on Thursday, died in hospital.

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