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Amnesty International: 10 Dead in Zimbabwe Tear Gas Attack - 2004-09-23

Medical personnel in Zimbabwe have confirmed an Amnesty International report, issued in London, that 10 people died after they were tear gassed at a shanty town on the outskirts of the capital earlier this month. The people were forcibly evicted from their homes of 13 years on Porta Farm, because the government says it needs the land.

Amnesty International has called for a full and independent inquiry into the deaths of at least 10 people at Porta Farm. The deaths were confirmed Thursday by human rights monitors and medical personnel in Harare, who said tear gas had been fired into confined spaces during a raid on the squatter settlement on September 2. Residents told human rights monitors that tear gas was fired directly into some homes.

Amnesty International says that riot police, people describing themselves as veterans of Zimbabwe's war for independence and youth members of the ruling Zanu-PF, went to evict 10,000 people at Porta Farm. At the time of the evictions, the police confirmed they used tear gas against some of the residents of the settlement, because, according to the police, municipal workers were attacked.

Since then doctors in both the public and private sector have treated some of the former residents. One doctor, who does not wish to be named, confirmed that 10 people he and his colleagues examined died from illnesses caused by tear gas. He says that among the dead was a mother and her five year old child, as well as another infant.

Doctors say some of the dead were already in fragile health when the attack occurred and exposure to tear gas proved fatal. Some of the residents are still unwell and the doctors do not rule out that more may die.

Earlier this month the Harare High Court ordered that the evictions of the Porta Farm residents cease, because an existing court ruling allowing them to remain was still in effect.

From the road, the sprawling settlement, appears to have been all but destroyed. Most of the roofs on homes and the school are missing.

Amnesty International, which sent investigators into Porta Farm, says Zimbabwe has broken international human rights treaties it has signed to desist from forced evictions without due process of law. It has also called on the government to provide medical care for those still suffering the aftereffects of tear gas.

Neither the police nor welfare officials have responded to reporters' questions, following the Amnesty International report.