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Hundreds of White Farmers In Zimbabwe Defy Deadline To Leave Their Land - 2002-08-09

Hundreds of white farmers in Zimbabwe have ignored a government-imposed midnight (Thursday)deadline to vacate their land, while hundreds of others have already left, fearing confrontation.

Farmers who defy the order face possible fines and imprisonment.

Nearly three thousand white farmers are subject to eviction under President Robert Mugabe's controversial land reform law. The law redistributes white-owned commercial farms to landless blacks. Mr. Mugabe says it will correct injustices left over from the colonial era.

So far, no incidents have been reported.

It is unclear how the government intends to enforce the land law. On Thursday, Zimbabwe's High Court ruled the government cannot seize a farm that is mortgaged without informing the lending institution.

And on Wednesday, Vice President Joseph Msika told a meeting of the Commercial Farmers' Union those who wish to continue farming should apply to the government for permission.

Violence has plagued the controversial land redistribution policy for two years. Squatters and so-called war veterans have killed 11 white farmers. And government-back militants have invaded many white-owned farms, forcing hundreds of owners off their land and seriously disrupting the nation's agricultural output.

The crisis comes at a time when some six million people face possible starvation in Zimbabwe. The land reform program has worsened food shortages brought on by a severe drought.