Zimbabwe farmers taken hostage in 'mayday' visit

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The Independent Online

Seventeen white commercial farmers were held hostage for more than 30 hours until yesterday morning by marauding Zimbabwe "war veterans" at a farm near Harare.

Seventeen white commercial farmers were held hostage for more than 30 hours until yesterday morning by marauding Zimbabwe "war veterans" at a farm near Harare.

The latest illustration ofstate-sponsored violence came as President Robert Mugabe denied he had promised to remove by the end of the month the veterans who have invaded 1,500 white-owned farms.

The 17 farmers had gone to Mayfield Farm on Wednesday in response to a call from a colleague who had been beaten by squatters, according to the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) president, Tim Henwood.

The veterans apparently thought that the farmers had come to attack them and deflated the tyres of their vehicles. Then, armed with axes, machetes and logs, the veteransforced the farmers to spend the night under a tree. One farmer described the experience as "frightening and harrowing".

The farmers were released after talks between CFU representatives and the veterans.

The incident happened as Mr Mugabe pressed ahead with plans to extend a land distribution programme, tripling to 3,000 the number of mainly white-owned farms to be handed over to landless peasants.

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman said the fresh seizures would begin in two weeks, once the 3,000 farmshad been identified. The CFU challenged the seizures in court on Wednesday.

At a meeting of the black Zimbabwe Farmers' Union yesterday, Mr Mugabe reverted to his hardline stance, vowing not to bow to international pressure to stop the invasion of white-owned farms. He said international donors could keep their money if they found the invasions unpalatable.

On Wednesday, after a five-hour meeting with the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, Mr Mugabe had said he would remove the war veterans from the occupied farms and restore the rule of law by the end of August.

Analysts said that Mr Mugabe had put paid to any prospects of an economic revival with this latest U-turn.

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