Zimbabwe police help the looters, claim farmers

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's police are helping rampaging supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling party to loot property worth an estimated £2m from white-owned commercial farms north-west of Harare, the farmers said yesterday.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police have often been accused of being used by Mr Mugabe's government to target political opponents. A spokesman for the Commercial Farmers Union in Chinhoyi said at least 80 white families had been evacuated from the area because of the increasing lawlessness and "police inaction" in dealing with the violence against farmers.

The spokesman confirmed a report by Zimbabwe's privately owned newspaper, The Daily News, that police officials helping the looting and police trucks were ferrying marauding supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF to these farms. The paper said its reporters had seen police vehicles being used in the "well-orchestrated" farm looting.

"The reason why we have had to evacuate so many families is precisely because of police inaction," said the farmers' spokesman, who requested anonymity. "The [police] are encouraging the lawlessness. They help them [the looters]. We have seen property being destroyed and farmers being assaulted in the presence of the police." Vehicles belonging to the police were seen loaded with stolen harvested crops, fertiliser and household furniture.

But a police spokesman, Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, rubbished the reports of officers helping looters. "It's unfortunate for the Zimbabwean press and other people to suggest that we are participating in criminal activity," he said.

Mr Bvudzijena said police were doing all they could to help white farmers terrorised by the squatters, but said they did not have the resources to assign details to every individual white farmer. "If they (the white farmers) want, they can make their own extra private security arrangements but we are doing all we can to patrol the area and provide them with security within the resources at our disposal," said Mr Bvudzijena. Eighty-five officers had been brought to help curb the lawlessness, he said, and 47 people had been arrested over the violence against white farmers. That, he said, was ample evidence that police were doing something.

But one farmer from Chinhoyi said: "If they have been active, then can you get them to explain why 45 farms have been looted and why houses have been destroyed and property stolen on all these farms in broad daylight."

The violence in Chinhoyi started after the arrest of 23 white farmers last week. Their lawyer, Roseline Zigomo said she had filed an application in the High Court demanding their release on bail. She hoped a judge would be found to hear the case today.

Mr Mugabe is also having neighbour problems. In Blantyre, Malawi, African leaders voted him out as chairman of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community, saying he had made decisions without proper consultation.

* South African authorities plan to outlaw land seizures, making it a criminal offence to grab land for shelter or financial gain, in an effort to prevent Zimbabwe-style invasions.