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Short Fuse Lit In Zimbabwe's Squatter Dispute

IN THE MOST VIOLENT ATTACK ON FARMERS YET, INVADERS OCCUPYING WHITE-OWNED LAND REPORTEDLY SHOT TO DEATH A FARMER AND ABDUCTED FOUR OTHERS.

By Paul Salopek
Tribune Foreign Correspondent
April 16, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Despite a government order to end their protests, thousands of squatters are refusing to budge from white-owned farms in Zimbabwe, raising anxieties about where the country's explosive land-rights crisis is heading and whether it can be controlled.

Since Thursday, when the government announced it no longer supports the land invasions, a white farmer reportedly has been shot to death and four others kidnapped, and farm sources said that fewer than 200 squatters have abandoned their plastic-tarp camps in dusty fields and fruit groves across the nation. The land invasions have continued, occupying at least 600 farms by Friday.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the squatters, many of them disaffected veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation war, is still bellowing threats at the descendants of British settlers who make up less than 1 percent of Zimbabwe's population but who till the country's most fertile soils.

"Dr. Hunzvi has no power to withdraw the war veterans from their motherland," veterans' leader and medical doctor Chenjerai Hunzvi said at a boisterous rally of about 1,000 squatters on Saturday. "Even if I had the power, it would be against my conscience."

Earlier, Hunzvi vowed to continue confronting the white farmers "who have stolen our ancestors' land" even though Zimbabwe's acting president urged the squatters to abandon their seizures of white-owned farms on Thursday. Hunzvi said the squatters would listen only to President Robert Mugabe, who has been away at a conference in Cuba.

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