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Mugabe Panel Hears Complaints Over Farm Seizures - 2003-06-16


In Zimbabwe, a land audit committee appointed by President Robert Mugabe is hearing evidence from people affected by the country's land reform program.

The latest high-profile personality to take possession of a farm is High Court Judge Ben Hlatshawayo. He has been accused by the former owner, Vernon Nicolle, of breaking and entering into his home last Thursday.

Judge Hlatshwayo was appointed to the bench following the purge of the judiciary more than two years ago.

According to Mr. Nicolle's family and his lawyer, Judge Hlatshwayo instructed a worker to break down the door into Mr. Nicolle's locked home.

The public face of Zimbabwe's police force is Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, who is in charge of press liaison. He is also accused of illegally taking over a farm homestead last Thursday. The takeover took place even though the owner of the farm has a High Court ruling allowing him to remain on his farm and grow crops.

Mr. Bvudzijena and Judge Hlatshwayo were accompanied on their missions last Thursday by senior policemen.

Neither of the two public officials were available for comment.

On Sunday a group of youths who claimed to be from the ruling party invaded a farm near Harare that has been leased by an opposition member of parliament, Roy Bennett.

The raid came about two days after President Mugabe said Mr. Bennett was not welcome in Zimbabwe and his possessions should be taken.

According to Mr. Bennett, about 500 people, his workers and their families, have fled the farm in terror.

Mr. Bennett says the invaders have begun killing his cattle and stealing food belonging to the workers.

Mr. Bennett has been arrested several times since he was elected to parliament two years ago. He was tortured in police cells earlier this year, and has filed charges against government security forces.

In several other areas of the country, leading ruling party officials, including at least one cabinet minister, are moving armed youth onto several white owned farms, to force the owners off.

Since farm invasions began three years ago, 90 percent of white commercial farmers have been forcibly evicted from their properties.

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