Mugabe supporters force sawmill to close

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The Independent Online

Armed supporters of the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, invaded the third- biggest lumber company in southern Africa yesterday and demanded the replacement of all white managers.

Taking their struggle from land invasions to one of the country's main employers - it has 3,500 workers - the 40 men entered the sawmill armed with sticks and two shotguns. "One of our men was handcuffed and beaten very badly in the presence of the police, who did nothing," the company chairman, Philip Chipudhla, said.

The latest invasion came just as Mr Mugabe was promising peace to the Commonwealth secretary general, Don McKinnon, and offering to accept election monitors for the elections now set for June 24 and 25. As the invasion was under way, Mr McKinnon was telling reporters: "I leave Zimbabwe in the hope that there will be a peaceful and orderly election which will further strengthen multi-party democracy in the country and have the confidence of Zimbabweans."

The company, Borders Timbers, which was recently sold by the Anglo American Company, said it was immediately ceasing operations. The company's deputy chairman, Ken Schofield, told The Independent: "This is extremely well-organised. It is barbary at its worst."

The invasion represents the largest confrontation yet in two months of political violence in which supporters of the Zanu-PF ruling party have killed at least 19 people.