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Zimbabwe Farmers Appeal Government Ban - 2002-06-24

Farmers for Justice, a new organization of white Zimbabwean farmers, went to court Monday asking the government to allow them to grow food. Laws passed last month in Zimbabwe make it a criminal offense for more than 2,500 white farmers to continue working their land after Monday.

Many white farmers have obeyed the laws and put down their tools, in fear that they and their workers would be arrested if they are caught working on the land.

They face up to two years in prison if they are charged and sentenced. About 60 percent of the white farmers in Zimbabwe are subject to the new laws. Even though many of them are major food producers, they are legally obliged to stop farming Monday and leave their homesteads by August 10.

Farmers for Justice has launched an urgent application in Harare's High Court, demanding that the farmers be allowed to continue working their lands.

David Connolly, a spokesman for Farmers for Justice, said the High Court application focused on a wheat farmer in Central Zimbabwe whose crop would die if it was not irrigated this week.

He said the papers lodged at court also challenged the constitutionality of criminalizing agricultural production in Zimbabwe.

According to the U.N.'s World Food Program, about six million people, or half the population in Zimbabwe, are in need of food aid. With the exception of bread, none of the staple foods are available in the shops and supplies of bread are expected to run out in weeks.

President Robert Mugabe's seizure of most of Zimbabwe's white-owned farms has been widely blamed for the food shortage, as these farms were responsible for growing most of the country's food.

On Monday, United Nations Harare spokesman Victor Angelo said that ever since the invasions of white-owned land began 28 months ago, the United Nations has been advising the Mugabe government to launch a sustainable and orderly land reform program. But he said the advice has not been followed.