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Zimbabwe Prison Refuses to Release Farmers - 2001-08-21

Prison officials in Zimbabwe have refused to release 21 white commercial farmers who posted bail after being arrested for allegedly attacking land invaders. Lawyers defending the farmers accuse the authorities of deliberately delaying the release.

The farmers were allowed to post bail of $1,800 each by Zimbabwe's High Court on Monday, two weeks after a clash with black land invaders at Chinhoyi in the north of the country.

The 21 men have not yet been charged.

Defense lawyers say they have been told by prison officials at Chinhoyi that no written orders have been issued for the farmers to be released.

Lawyers publicly accuse prison officials of deliberately delaying the release.

Farmers in the area also accuse the authorities of delaying the release.

20 of the men have been forbidden by the High Court to go back to their farms for four weeks. One of them, who was taken ill shortly after being arrested, is allowed back home for medical treatment.

The judge said she wanted to prevent more violence in the area, where more than 100 families were forced to flee after pro-government militants stormed homesteads.

Clashes on August 6 between the farmers and the militants unleashed two weeks of violent invasions of white-owned farms by black squatters and pro-government militants.

The violence that erupted has spread to Hwedza, 80 kilometers southeast of Harare, the capital. Five farmers and their families in the area have fled, while thousands of laborers and their families have been forced off the farms. The Commercial Farmers Union says many of them have nowhere to go and are squatting on roadsides.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it might provide food and shelter.

More than 2,000 farms throughout Zimbabwe have been invaded in the last 18 months.

Meanwhile, the farmers union says a breakdown of veterinary controls following the invasions is the cause of an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in the last two days. The union says fences to keep out wild animals, which often carry the virus, have been cut down and cattle have become mixed up with the wild animals.

The government has halted all exports of beef. Economists say Zimbabwe will lose at least $100 million in export revenue.