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Political Tension in Zimbabwe Mounts With Violence On White-Owned Farms

Tensions in Chegutu district of Zimbabwe's Mashonaland West province, where a number of white-owned commercial farms remain under siege by war veterans and loyalists of President Robert Mugabe, have deepened rather than subsiding following a visit to the area late last week by a ministerial delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

Sources said a combination of war veterans, youth militia and security forces have stepped up violence against workers on farms of white farmers resisting the takeovers.

The ministers and other top officials from all parties in the country's unity government were sent to the area by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who has had little success convincing Mr. Mugabe that the latest wave of farm invasions is hurting Zimbabwe’s reputation with international donors to whom the country is looking for reconstruction funds.

Mr. Tsvangirai revealed some impatience with this and other unresolved issues in comments to journalists at a Harare meeting marking the 90th anniversary of the International Labor Organization. Such issues "will be addressed and we are in the process of addressing them. We cannot go on forever and ever" with such issues "hanging over our heads."

Such issues include political prisoners - two MDC party officials and a freelance photographer were released late last week only to be placed under guard again this week in a Harare private hospital - and appointments to top posts including central bank governor.

But the farm invasions, which bring back memories of years of traumatic takeovers in the earlier part of this decade, have generated the most political heat.

Since the unity government's launch in February, President Mugabe has encouraged what his ZANU-PF party calls are "mop-up" operations to complete the land reform drive Mr. Mugabe began in 2000, by most accounts also tipping the country into economic decline.

The president has put his personal stamp on the latest round of farm invasions: campaign-style posters of Mr. Mugabe and slogans around the theme of national sovereignty are displayed everywhere on the farms occupied by militants and guarded by police.

Southern African Development Community sources say the farms crisis has hampered their efforts to convince the international community to go beyond humanitarian assistance to the country to funding government operations and financing economic recovery.

Some farm invasions fly in the face of a November 2008 ruling by a SADC tribunal in Namibia saying 78 white Zimbabwean farmers could keep their land because they were unable to avail themselves of the due process of law. The previous government, headed by Mr. Mugabe with a cabinet comprised entirely of ZANU-PF stalwarts, dismissed the tribunal's ruling.

SADC sources said plans to send finance ministers from the region to Washington, London and Brussels have been revised to include Mr. Tsvangirai – this in response to what SADC sources describe as growing concern about Mr. Mugabe’s intransigence on the farms.

Meanwhile the standoffs in Chegutu and other agricultural areas continue.

Commercial Farmers Union Vice President Deon Theron told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that many farmers around the country are under siege.

Attorney General Johannes Tomana has come under fire for allegedly condoning the fresh violence on the farms, but Tomana told VOA he has been trying to restore order.

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