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Demolitions and Evictions Continue in Zimbabwe

On the outskirts of Harare many people are being taken against their will from the remains of homes that had been destroyed by the Zimbabwe government. Even though most of the homes were torn down weeks ago, people had been still using what was left for shelter, but now the government has dispatched crews to flatten the homes completely and the people are being moved to rural areas.

At Porta Farm, 15 kilometers west of Harare, the remains of thousands of people's homes are being flattened by heavy duty road making equipment.

On Saturday, riot police, security agents and officials from the city of Harare roamed throughout Porta Farm. Residents in the settlement say that they were ordered to leave and to return to their rural homes by nightfall. One woman, Yvonne Bosha, mother of three, said police told her that if she did not leave by Saturday evening, police dogs would be set upon her. She said she has no ties with the rural areas, and has nowhere to go.

Another woman, Felicitus Chinyuku, is 65 and is caring for seven of her dead daughters children at Porta Farm. She remained there after her home was demolished in May. "Policemen around us, they asked us to (get into) their cars (and) go to our traditional home. But we are here 15 years, we were brought here by the government so we have nothing to do, so we are sleeping outside of the forest with the kids," she said.

Porta Farm was established when the government moved homeless people off the streets of Harare ahead of a Commonwealth summit 15 years ago.

The homes they built were destroyed in the latest government campaign, even though many Porta Farm residents had court orders going back several years that grant them permission to remain in the homes. Some of the homes demolished in May and June were built of brick. Roads had been constructed and children attended local schools.

On Sunday earth moving equipment and army lorries arrived at Porta Farm. Groups of people were seen on trucks leaving the area.

A United Nations report last week condemned the Zimbabwe government's demolition of homes. It said the government's operation had affected 700,000 people and told Zimbabwe to cease knocking down homes and evicting people. On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he is considering an invitation to visit Zimbabwe to discuss the report. Critics say the bulldozing of the remains of the demolished homes and businesses may be a government attempt to cover up human rights violations before Mr. Annan's visit.

The government says its demolition campaign, called Operation Restore Order, is necessary in order to clear out illegal structures and control crime. It says it will provide housing for those made homeless by the operation.

In Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, human rights monitors say a temporary camp on the outskirts of the city has been cleared of those sheltering there after the country wide demolitions. The camp also housed people evicted from the city's churches last week.

A group of 20 youths arrived back in Bulawayo at the weekend saying they had been dropped by police on a deserted farm 50 kilometers away where there was no food and water.

The youths say many old people and nursing mothers are trapped on the farm, unable to leave.

Mike Davies, chairman of Combined Harare Residents Association, condemned the demolitions and evictions as cruel and inhuman. He said the Zimbabwe government was trying to erase evidence of its campaign against the urban poor.