Police to search farms for weapons caches

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The Independent Online

The Zimbabwe government has ordered police to search all white-owned farms for arms and ammunition and military camps, which are allegedly being used to train recruits of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Tim Henwood, the president of the Commercial Farmers Union, said he had not been made aware of the order, but the union's office in Mashonaland West province said that two farms had been searched yesterday. War veterans, who have occupied more than 1,000 white-owned commercial farms, had in some cases taken it upon themselves to seize firearms from farmers, Mr Henwood said.

Chenamo Chimutengwende, Zimbabwe's Information Minister, said the government had ordered police to mount searches for unlicensed firearms on all white-owned properties because it feared that illegal weapons caches could be used to arm MDC recruits.

The police would look into the existence of military training camps on these properties and also establish whether some farmers were hoarding fuel, which has been in short supply, he said. The searches come after attempts to clamp down on the sale of arms to whites, and to curb whitedominated crime watches.

A second farmer was killed yesterday in an attack by squatters who invaded farms, in defiance of court orders, after the government's land reform proposals were defeated in a February referendum.

As Zimbabwe degenerates further into lawlessness, demand for ammunition and hand guns has increased. And not only from farmers stocking up on ammunition, repairing old firearms or adding to their weapons pool.

Dealers say fearful suburban whites - and their black neighbours - are flocking to buy home protection weapons. "There is no law and order left in this country," said one dealer, who claimed his sales had doubled since the tensions started. "People are terrified of what that could mean for their families and homes."

Mr Chimutengwende said the government suspected that the MDC was training people on some white-owned farms to destabilise the country ahead of elections planned for next month. The government also had information that the MDC was colluding with international organisations to isolate Zimbabwe and sabotage the economy, he said.

But Learnmore Jongwe, an MDC spokesman, dismissed the minister's statements as cheap propaganda from a party desperate to cling to power, and denied suggestions that the MDC was bent on toppling the government by force.

In a letter sent to Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister, Dumiso Dabengwa, yesterday, Reporters Sans Frontiÿres (RSF) expressed concern about the deterioration of press freedom in Zimbabwe on the 20th anniversary of majority rule.

RSF urged the minister to ensure that journalists could work freely and safely in the country.

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