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White Zimbabwean Farmers Prosecuted For Failing to Vacate Farms

Zimbabwe's longrunning land reform saga continued Wednesday as at least five white farmers appeared in court in Karoi to answer charges of occupying land illegally.

A lawyer for three of them, David Drury, said the cases were remanded to the end of the month. Drury was set to represent 10 other farmers Thursday in Chegutu who are similarly accused of violating additional land reform legislation passed in 2006.

The Zimbabwean government of President Robert Mugabe has been seizing the land of white farmers since 2000, purportedly to redistribute it to peasants although most large properties have ended up in the hands of ministers or other top officials. The parliament passed a constitutional amendment last year nationalizing all farms.

Some 350 to 400 white farmers continue to pursue agriculture in Zimbabwe, whose harvests have sharply declined since land reform began. United Nations agencies estimate more than 4 million people will need food aid by early 2008.

Those accused in the latest cases could face sentences of up to two years in prison if they are convicted of failing to meet a state deadline to vacate their farms.

One of the farmers in Karoi, Mashonaland West, was evicted from his farm on Saturday, despite assurances from government officials that farmers who complied with the law by downsizing farms had a chance of remaining on their property.

Andrew Stardoff said he reduced his holdings to 400 hectares from 2,000 originally, but that the last 400 hectares were taken over Saturday by an army major general by the name of N.M. Dube with backing from Didymus Mutasa, the minister of state security who is also in charge of land reform.

But Stardoff has found allies at top levels of the government, including Vice President Joseph Msika and Minister of State for Policy Implementation Webster Shamu, while Karoi community leaders have also been supporting him.

In an interview, Stardoff told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that armed guards now surround his farm, leaving him homeless.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...