The Zimbabwe government has told the Commercial Farmers' Union that if it wants compensation for farms seized in the country's controversial land reform program, it will have to get it from Britain, the country's former colonial ruler.
When the leaders of the farmers' Union went to meet with a new task force of seven cabinet ministers earlier this week, they expected to discuss ways to reverse the sharp drop in agricultural production since their farms were taken.
Instead, the government officials wanted to discuss the issue of compensation for the confiscated land.
The president of the Union, Colin Cloete, says the ministers asked him to press the British government to pay compensation to farmers who were evicted from their homesteads, often violently, in the land reform program.
The government has seized more than 90 percent of white-owned farms, homesteads and equipment since 2000, and Zimbabwe's commercial agriculture, which provided 40 percent of the country's foreign currency, has since collapsed.
Under the law governing the seizure of white-owned farms, the government is obliged to pay the farmers for all improvements they have made, such as buildings and irrigation systems, but not for the land itself. The government has always said the farmers would have to ask Britain to reimburse them for the land, but now it says Britain should fund the compensation for the improvements as well.
The government admits that fewer than 200 farmers, out of more than 3,500, have been compensated for even a portion of the improvements on their farms. The government says it has no money to pay any more compensation.
Britain has said it will help finance Zimbabwe's land reform only if the program is legal and transparent.
After the meeting with the ministerial task force, the Union leader, Mr. Cloete, said the Union is in no position to ask a foreign country to compensate people like himself, a Zimbabwean, whose property was taken by his own government.
The Union says many former farmers are now living in towns, and are destitute, while most of the land they once farmed is fallow because the newly installed farmers lack both the money and the skills to cultivate it.
The government described the meeting with the farmers Union as good, and said efforts were made to sort out the question of compensation.
On Wednesday, Mr. Cloete was in court in Chegutu, 120 kilometers south west of Harare. He was standing trial for remaining in his home, and growing crops, after the expiration date of his eviction notice.