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Thousands of Zimbabwe Farm Workers Made Homeless - 2001-09-05

Zimbabwe commercial farmers say that more than 5,000 farm workers and their families have been made homeless in the past three days. Meanwhile, the government says that it accepts an offer of almost one million hectares of land from commercial farmers for resettlement of poor people.

Militant supporters of President Robert Mugabe have forced mostly white farm owners, along with black workers and their families, to leave 20 farms at Hwedza.

Hundreds of people, including babies and pregnant women, are camped on roadsides in the area because they have nowhere else to go.

The Commercial Farmers Union says 70,000 Zimbabwe workers have been forced off the land or have lost their jobs since the invasions of mainly white-owned farms began 18 months ago. A farmers union spokesman says "it is a really big disaster."

At least 15 farmers and workers have been killed and thousands of workers beaten in violence resulting from the invasions.

The Zimbabwe government says it wants to seize without payment more than 8-million-hectares of commercial farms for resettling poor people.

Vice President Joseph Msika says the government is accepting an offer by commercial farmers to sell 900,000 hectares for resettlement. But the Zimbabwe vice president made it clear that the seizure of the eight million hectares will continue.

He said that the government's acceptance of the offer means that the farmers are withdrawing legal challenges concerning the 900,000 hectares. Commercial Farmers Union Vice President Malcolm Vowles says farmers still expect to be paid for the land they have offered.

Political analysts say the Zimbabwe government's acceptance of the offer, after a number of refusals, is an attempt to soften hostility by the Commonwealth, an association of former British colonies.

Eight Commonwealth countries are scheduled to meet in Abuja, Nigeria, beginning Thursday, to discuss the farm seizures and Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.