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Zimbabwe Police Force Workers to Return to Farms They Fled - 2002-05-13

Zimbabwe police have rounded up scores of former commercial farm workers, and forcibly returned them to the farm they fled two weeks ago. The workers had been forced to leave their jobs and homes by supporters of President Robert Mugabe.

The former farm workers and their families were living at two camps near Harare, set up by private non-governmental groups.

The camps were a temporary home for some of the tens of thousands of farm workers and families who have lost jobs since Mr. Mugabe launched the invasions and seizures of white-owned land more than two years ago.

Rev. Tim Neil, director of Zimbabwe Community Development, which runs the two camps, said police on Sunday rounded up scores of the displaced workers and their families, and took them to the farm, which they had fled just two weeks ago, about 45 kilometers away. He said many of those taken in the police raid were children.

The Reverend Neil said he was shocked by the police action. And he said he has filed an urgent application to Zimbabwe's High Court in an attempt to force the government to allow the refugees to return to the camps.

At least one of the former farm workers who was taken away did manage to return. He said police did not tell the people now occupying the land why the former workers had been returned.

He said the situation was frightening, because the people now occupying the farm were angry. He said one had an automatic weapon, and others were armed with whips and sticks.

He said the former workers were forced to sing ruling Zanu PF party songs. Then, he said, they ran into the bush where they spent the night.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said police took the refugees from the camps for security reasons. He gave no other details.