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US Remains Critical of Zimbabwe Farm Evictions - 2002-08-12

There was more U.S. criticism of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe Monday as he reaffirmed his government's eviction of thousands of white commercial farmers from their homesteads. The State Department said Mr. Mugabe is putting millions of people at risk by pursuing a dubious land reform program during a regional drought and food crisis.

In some of the strongest U.S. comments to date, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker linked the move against commercial farmers to what he termed the Mugabe government's "assault" on political opponents and the independent news media. He said those policies have undermined the country's democratic institutions and all but destroyed the economy.

"At a time when six million Zimbabweans are without adequate food supplies, that the government of Zimbabwe's attempts to evict commercial farmers and thousands of farm workers is extremely reckless and, in fact, reprehensible," he said.

The Bush administration has said it recognizes the need for "reasonable" land reform in Zimbabwe but says forced expulsions and property seizures are taking the country in the opposite direction.

Officials in Washington say there are credible reports of senior Zimbabwean political and security figures assuming ownership of expropriated farms, underlining the cynicism, they say, of a program supposed to benefit landless workers.