Images show extent of Mugabe's destruction

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The Independent Online

The true scale of a destructive campaign waged against Zimbabwe's poorest and most vulnerable citizens by their own government has been revealed in previously unseen satellite images.

The pictures show how a community of 30,000 at Porta Farm, outside Harare, was wiped from the map last year, during President Robert Mugabe's Operation Murambatsvina, or "Restore Order".

Countrywide, these demolition orders resulted in up to 700,000 people being made homeless in the midst of a food crisis.

Kolawole Olaniyan, the Africa programme director at Amnesty International, who released the images, said: "They are irrefutable evidence - if further evidence is even needed - that the Zimbabwean government has obliterated entire communities - completely erased them from the map, as if they never existed."

During the operation, state security forces were sent in their thousands into informal settlements, marketplaces and slums to forcibly evict the urban poor. The campaign was compared by Mr Mugabe's critics to the tactics of Pol Pot, the head of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, who emptied entire cities into the countryside.

It was a war launched with a concerted attack on the country's poorest and weakest people. Hundreds of thousands living in squatter camps or working in street markets had their homes demolished or their livelihoods taken away.

Amnesty commissioned the satellite images to demonstrate the destruction of Porta Farm - a large, informal settlement that was established 16 years ago and had schools, a children's centre and a mosque. The organisation also released video footage showing the forced evictions taking place prior to the demolitions.

The police action, which came early in the morning on 28 June last year, began with a heavily armed column entering the community. Pictures show residents watching helplessly as bulldozers and police officers in riot gear reduced their homes to rubble.

Police officers reportedly threatened the residents, saying that anyone who resisted eviction would be beaten. The next day, the police returned to continue with the demolitions. They also began to forcibly remove people in trucks.

The Mugabe regime faced international condemnation during the eviction campaign, which led to a visit by the UN special envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, who arrived in Zimbabwe in June. On 29 June, members of the UN team visited Porta Farm and witnessed demolitions and forced removal of people in police and government trucks. In her report to the UN, Mrs Tibaijuka said her team was "shocked by the brutality" of what they witnessed.

Mr Olaniyan said: "The images and footage are a graphic indictment of the Zimbabwean government's policies. They show the horrifying transition of an area from a vibrant community to rubble and shrubs - in the space of just 10 months."

Mr Mugabe defended the campaign as an overdue "clean-up operation" to restore order and beauty to the cities. His critics accuse him of waging a vindictive war on those who did not vote for his Zanu-PF party in the March general election.

More than half a million people were displaced in a drought-stricken country where conservative estimates say that four million were in need of food aid.