Mugabe launches fresh round of farm seizures

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The Independent Online

The Government of Zimbabwe has said it will seize hundreds more white farms, despite rising international pressure on President Robert Mugabe after his controversial election victory.

The government has published a list of 388 farms, including ranches owned by South Africa's wealthy Oppenheimer family, for seizure.

Early yesterday hundreds of white farmers and black farm workers attended the funeral of a white farmer, Terry Ford, who was shot on Monday at his farm west of Harare. He was the 10th white farmer to have been killed since farm occupations by war veterans began two years ago.

The Government also announced plans yesterday for massive food imports. The country is facing starvation due to drought and the chaos which has followed the occupation of white-owned farms.

The Agriculture Minister, Joseph Made, said the government wanted to import 200,000 tons of corn. State radio reported that over the next 18 months 1.5 million tons of corn will need to be imported.

In its report on the elections, published yesterday, the Commonwealth observer group said paramilitary youth groups "were responsible for a systematic campaign of intimidation against known or suspected supporters of the main opposition party, the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change]."

About 1,200 polling agents of the MDC are on the run from Mr Mugabe's youth militias. The President is continuing with the military training of hundreds of his ruling party's young men at camps around his stronghold province of Mashonaland Central, according to Zimbabwe's only independent daily, the Daily News. The youths are then unleashed on villagers accused of having voted for the MDC.

A spokesman for the MDC, Percy Makombe, said most people who had registered to be MDC polling agents at the 4,500 polling stations around the country were no longer able to stay at home. "They are on the run and some of them are being accommodated at the homes of our party officials in Harare," Mr Makombe said.

The MDC has published a list of 76 homes of its followers and officials which have been burnt in reprisal attacks. Francis Lovemore of the Amani Trust, a human rights group, said: "There's an enormous amount of persecution of MDC supporters around Zimbabwe. Whole areas are on the run."

He said some of the victims of the reprisal attacks were being forced to perform homosexual acts at Zanu-PF bases as a form of torture. Others were being raped. The MDC has called on the ruling party to disband its militias.

In attempts to stop increasing violence, particularly in Mashonaland Central province, MDC officials in Bindura met Elliot Manyika, Mr Mugabe's minister in charge of the youth brigades. Mr Manyika reportedly promised to appeal to the Zanu-PF leadership in the province to stop the violence.

The country's main trade union conceded yesterday that a national strike called to protest against intimidation during the election had been a failure. The few businesses that had observed the strike reopened yesterday on what had been planned as the last day of a three-day mass action.

Lovemore Matombo, on behalf of the unions, said that new security laws had hindered strike organisers and that threats by the authorities and bias in the state-dominated media had stopped workers joining the action.