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Trial of Men Accused in White Zimbabwean Farmer's Murder Begins - 2002-10-25


Four men accused of killing a white farmer went on trial this week in Zimbabwe. This is a trial many thought would never take place.

David Stevens was the first white farmer killed in connection with Zimbabwe's land reform program. He was killed in April of 2000, shortly after the program began.

The men accused of Mr. Stevens' murder were arrested a short while later, but released from prison after several months, when their case did not come to court. One of those accused, the man who allegedly fired the shot that killed Mr. Stevens, has since disappeared.

Mr. Stevens was attacked on his farm 100 kilometers southeast of Harare. The prosecution says his attackers abducted him and dragged him into the bush, where he was tortured and then shot.

This week, two-and-a-half years after Mr. Stevens' death, the trial began. On Wednesday, the first witness for the prosecution, who the state says may not be named for fear of reprisals, told the court that, after killing Mr. Stevens, the accused men prepared a cocktail made of his blood and alcohol and shared it among themselves.

Political analysts say Mr. Stevens was an obvious target because he publicly supported the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Andrew Ngongo, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Crisis Committee, which monitors political developments in the country, said the trial could have been held shortly after Mr. Stevens' death.

But, he said, it was likely the trial has finally started because the Zimbabwe government is trying to improve its image following pressure from South Africa.

The Amani Trust, a group that monitors political violence in Zimbabwe, says that, in the last two years, more than 150 opposition supporters, white farmers and their workers have been killed in violence related to Zimbabwe's land reform program. White farmers and their workers have been accused by the government of supporting the opposition.

Under the land reform program, thousands of white farmers and hundreds-of-thousands of their workers have been forcibly evicted from their farms.

The four men on trial are Richard Svisviro, Muyengwa Munyuki, Charles Matanda and Douglas Chitekuteku. They are accused of being part of the gang of about 15 who allegedly abducted Mr. Stevens.

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