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Violence, Looting Forces Zimbabwe's White Farmers to Flee - 2001-08-12

More than 100 farm-owner families have fled their homes in northern Zimbabwe as violence and looting on commercial farms continues. Economic analysts say the unrest will seriously affect food production in the country.

At least 35 homesteads have been destroyed, with dozens of sheds and workshops wrecked by the latest violence.

Commercial Farmers Union president Colin Cloete says the invasions and looting around Chinhoyi in northern Zimbabwe are the worst since invasions by militants who support President Robert Mugabe began 18 months ago.

Dozens of farm workers have been beaten and Mr. Cloete accuses the police of doing nothing to stop the lawlessness. Neighbors have airlifted some families to safety by air to avoid roadblocks set up by invading mobs.

The farmers union says the value of property and equipment stolen or destroyed is put at $4 million. Tractors, seed, fertilizer, and implements have been stolen.

Economists say Zimbabwe's agricultural production will suffer significant long-term damage. Tony Hawkins, a professor of business studies at the national university, says the areas affected are the richest food producing areas in the country, particularly in wheat and corn.

According to estimates by donor agencies, Zimbabwe already faces a record shortage of 500,000 tons of grain this year, largely because of disruption by farm invasions. There have been incursions onto more than 2,000 farms and the government says it plans to seize more than 5,000 farms for resettlement of poor people.