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Zimbabwe Minister Orders Squatters Off Commercial Farms - 2002-05-20

In a surprise announcement, Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo says all people who moved onto farmland in the past 14 months must go back to where they came from. But commercial farmers, who grow most of Zimbabwe's food, say nothing appears to have changed.

The commercial farmers say they see no signs that any of the squatters who have moved onto their farms since March 1, 2001, are leaving. In fact, they say, tensions remain high between the farmers and the Zimbabwe government.

Four white farmers were arrested Saturday and charged with attending a political meeting without permission. They have denied the charges.

Commercial farmers also say farmers and workers continue to be forced off their land by people who say they are supporters of President Robert Mugabe, and commercial farmers say many hundreds of them are being prevented from growing crops at a time when Zimbabwe is short of food.

Last week, Mr. Nkomo ordered the arrest of a well-known war veteran, Andrew Ndlovu, in connection with public statements he made about expelling Asian businessmen from Zimbabwe. Mr. Ndlovu has been charged and released on bail.

Mr. Nkomo also said any cabinet minister who has illegally seized white-owned farms would have to move off the land. But, so far, none are known to have responded to his order.

Mr. Nkomo made his statements a short time after South African and Nigerian officials left Zimbabwe following the collapse of talks they tried to mediate between the ruling Zanu PF party and opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Before the talks collapsed, the two parties had agreed to discuss a Nigerian-brokered agreement about land, signed by the Zimbabwe government in Abuja last September. In the agreement, Zimbabwe said it would stop any more seizures of white-owned land and would evict squatters who had invaded farms since March First of last year.

Several political commentators say Mr. Nkomo's recent statements may have been designed to quell recent African impatience at Mr. Mugabe's failure to take steps to resolve Zimbabwe's growing international isolation and its economic and political crisis.