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Top Zimbabwe Official Sues Colleague over Land Use

One of President Robert Mugabe's closest aides has gone to court against a more junior political colleague in what has become a front-page legal brawl over the use of land expropriated from white farmers. The case is symptomatic of increasing arguments over land tenure.

John Nkomo is national chairman of ruling ZANU-PF party. He is also speaker of parliament, and is tipped by many to become a vice president. In a headline-making move last Friday, he sued a fellow ruling party member for squatting on land the state expropriated from a white owner and Mr. Nkomo awarded to himself. Mr. Nkomo is claiming damages for his rival's use of the land and a safari lodge built on it.

When he was minister of lands, Mr. Nkomo allocated himself some 6,000 hectares of land in a wildlife conservation area in southern Zimbabwe. The property belonged to a white farmer, who was forced off the land three years ago.

Almost 11 million hectares of land have been expropriated by the government from white farmers over the past six years. Only members of the ruling ZANU-PF party have been given the land. Agricultural analysts say Zimbabwe's land reform program has thrown land ownership into chaos, sparking disputes over vast tracts of land. The spokesman for the independent lobby group, Justice for Agriculture, John Worswick, said the lawsuit by Mr. Nkomo is only the most visible tip of a huge iceberg.

President Robert Mugabe, who instituted the land redistribution program, has repeatedly complained that many members of his party have acted against his orders, and took more than one commercial farm.

Mr. Worswick says the uncertainty over land ownership is partly to blame for Zimbabwe's plummeting agricultural production. He says some of the country's most productive land is not being used, because it is mired in legal wrangling.

Just days before Mr. Nkomo filed his lawsuit, Zimbabwe's parliament passed a constitutional amendment barring courts from adjudicating any land disputes. But the amendment, which nationalized all agricultural land, is yet to be signed by President Mugabe into law.