Murder of farmer ends veterans' nod to peace

Zimbabwe state radio has claimed the beating that killed Alan Dunn was caused in a burglary that went wrong - but the atrocity had all the hallmarks of a cold-blooded and planned assassination.

Workers on his Maasplein tobacco farm, 70 kilometres south of Harare in the Beatrice district, said six men had walked on to the farm in pairs on Sunday afternoon.

Some made a noise in the garage to lure Mr Dunn, a leading opposition activist, out of the house, and the others ambushed him at his back door and beat him with steel garden chairs and cinder blocks in his carport.

The killers escaped, running towards the nearby main road, which runs from Harare south to South Africa.

Yesterday the bloodstains were still visible in a corner of the carport, with bandages and plastic gloves left by paramedics who tried to save his life after his wife, Sherry, raised the alarm.

That was about 3.45pm. Mr Dunn was taken to hospital in Harare but died early yesterday of a shattered skull, massive brain injuries and internal bleeding. His arms were broken in several places, apparently where he had tried to fend off the blows.

White farmers in Zimbabwe are deeply distressed by Mr Dunn's murder, the 19th death in three months of political violence but the first since a "peace deal" done two weeks ago with war veterans.

Yesterday the war veterans' leader Chenjerai "Hitler " Hunzvi dismissed the Dunn death as "not worth comment" and warned that he would set up a committee to speed the carve-up of expropriated white land among blacks because it should not be left "to politicians". Fanning the anti-British rhetoric he said "All those with British passports. They must go back to Britain. They should go to the airport. If they don't, they will go into the ground."

Tim Henwood, spokesman of the Commercial Farmers' Union, which represents the white farmers, said Mr Dunn was a leader in the community, well-respected and well-liked by workers and his peers.

The Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation quoted police last night as saying Mr Dunn's murder was a criminal act. The minister of Information, Chenhamo Chimutengwende, said: "We shouldn't forget in any revolution or in any situation like that there will be criminals who will take advantage of the environment."

But Munyaradzi Bidi, national director of the human rights NGS Zimrights, said he could not accept Mr Dunn had been killed by criminals at a time when war veterans have been spreading terror on farms and when 18 farmers, workers or opposition party supporters had already been killed.

In addition to being a target for pro-Mugabe supporters by virtue of his land ownership, Mr Dunn was British, and a local organiser of the Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition party threatening tounseat President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

Mr Dunn may also have been singled out because he was the secretary of the local committee trying to negotiate a solution to the land invasion crisis. His workers said the committee held a heated meeting on his farm on Friday and one angry war veteran had stormed out.

Workers and farmers said other members of the negotiating team have received threats indicative of a pattern repeated across the country. This seemed to be aimed at preventing a civil discourse on the land question, the farmers said.

Outside the Dunn family's whitewashed brick farmhouse last night several workers - too fearful to give their names - praised Mr Dunn. "He was a good man," said one. "He used to help his workers whenever they needed help with school fees." Another said: "We don't know where we can go. We just worry we can die here."

The workers said police investigators took away the broken chairs and bloodstained cinder blocks used to kill Mr Dunn. They did not know where Mrs Dunn had gone.

In Washington, President Bill Clinton said: "It is quite sad what is going on because [Zimbabwe] is an important country. I hope we can do something that will encourage them to return to a progressive and stable path. We'll work it out."

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