Mugabe and the courts clash over farm squatting

Amid warnings that Zimbabwe is descending into anarchy, the country's police must decide today whether to act on a court decision and evict black squatters from 600 white-owned farms or heed what appears to be President Robert Mugabe's desire that the land occupations should continue.

Tension deepened at the weekend as reports said a crowd had been bussed in from Harare to the Enterprise Valley, 30 miles north-east of the capital Harare, by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. Landowners in the area were told they would be evicted and the land redistributed to black Zimbabweans.

The High Court in the capital ruled on Friday that the occupations of almost 600 commercial farms around the country by veterans of the war of liberation were illegal. Judge Paddington Garwe said the veterans had to move within 72 hours and said the police were not to accept contradictory orders from the government.

The occupations - by groups saying they represent veterans whose campaigns helped end white rule in 1980 - began a month ago after Mr Mugabe's government lost a referendum to change the constitution. The rejected draft included a clause legitimising a "land grab" from 4,000 mostly white farmers occupying Zimbabwe's best land.

After 1980, Britain agreed to compensate white farmers who handed over their land to themajority black population, but payments were withdrawn after claims that land was being given to ministers and close allies of Zanu-PF.

On Saturday, after the court ruling, the squatters said they would fight anyone who tried to evict them. The Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), which brought the case, then warned that the country was on the brink of anarchy. David Hasluck, the CFU director, said: "If the parties to this order do not comply, there will be de facto anarchy, and this would be of grave concern to all the citizens of Zimbabwe."

Mr Hasluck said the state radio and television company, ZBC, had refused to comply with a directive by the judge to allow the CFU to publicise the court order in broadcasts to the veterans.

A spokesman for the veterans, Joseph Chinotimba, said his members would not leave the farms. "We fought for land and we are getting this land now. Anyone who wants to deny us the land of our forefathers will have to fight us, and we are ready for that fight," he told a rally of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association.

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