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Zimbabwe's President Says Deadline For Land Distribution Stands - 2002-08-12

President Robert Mugabe says the August 8th deadline for a controversial redistribution of white-owned farmland still stands. But he has remained silent about what is to happen to the thousands of white Zimbabwean farmers, who have remained at their homes in defiance of the government order to leave.

Mr. Mugabe said the deadline would allow the new black land owners enough time to prepare and plant new crops for the coming season, which should begin in October.

He was speaking at the funeral of Bernard Chidzero, a former U-N official who was Zimbabwe's most important and longest serving finance minister since independence.

The funeral coincided with the annual commemoration for those who lost their lives during the war for independence.

As part of his address, Mr. Mugabe said the land question would be resolved on August 23rd, ahead of this year's rainy season, when new owners take possession of white-owned land.

None of those farmers who defied the deadline has been arrested.

Mr. Mugabe said resettlement would continue, since the land issue was the reason for the independence war that ended in 1979.

The Zimbabwe leader said white farmers who want to continue to farm would be allowed to do so, but they would be limited to ownership of one farm only. He said whites who owned, what he termed, excessive tracts of land, or more than one farm, would forfeit their properties to the state.

David Hasluck, director of the mainly white Commercial Farmers Union, said Mr. Mugabe's statement was encouraging. He said many farmers with only one farm were already off their land, and need to be allowed to return as a matter of urgency, in order to produce food.

The government's notices of seizure and eviction have been served on most white farmers who only own one piece of land. Hundreds of them have already been driven from their farms.

During his address, Mr. Mugabe called British Prime Minister Tony Blair a "gangster," and said travel restrictions to Europe and America imposed on the ruling elite by Washington and the European Union were immaterial. He said, if travel sanctions were imposed on a million Zimbabweans, it would make no difference.

He also said national youth service would soon be mandatory, and he congratulated young people who had invaded white owned farms over the last 30 months. He said they are now veterans of the war to repossess Zimbabwe's land.