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Following Harare Roundup, Thousands Sent to New Holding Camp

One year after launching a highly controversial campaign of evictions and demolitions of unauthorized dwellings, Zimbabwean authorities have established another holding camp on a farm outside Harare to accommodate some 10,000 homeless people and street vendors rounded up in the capital over the past several weeks.

Civil society sources said some of those displaced a year ago in Harare's so-called Operation Murambatsvina (Shona for "Drive Out the Trash") have also been moved to Melfort Farm, located in Goromonzi district about 40 kilometers east of Harare.

A highly placed police source said police officers and central intelligence organisation agents have been deployed to Melfort Farm, and cordoned it off. A Harare city official speaking on condition of anonymity said Melfort lacked proper shelter and sanitary facilities and that the only food being provided was that seized from vendors.

Nongovernmental organizations are protesting this seeming replay of Murambatsvina and human rights groups including the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have lodged appeals with the United Nations and the African Union.

Concern in human rights circles increased with a report in the state-controlled Herald newspaper quoting police sources as saying there were 30 mysterious graves at the Hopely Farm transit camp, established outside Harare about a year ago when the original urban "clean-up" operation displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya confirmed the existence of the Melfort Farm holding camp to reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, and said the establishment of the new holding camp was necessary to cope with homelessness.

Advocacy manager Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations said the establishment of Melfort Farm was only the latest instance of the Zimbabwean government displacing people to improvised facilities.

Some of the vendors detained by police in what Harare is calling Operation Round-Up said they were taken to a farm owned by a government official and obliged to harvest crops with no pay - in effect becoming conscript labor against their will.

Vendor and car washer Richard Shambahweta told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he had just gotten back to Harare on Tuesday after spending four days on a farm somewhere in Mazowe district.

Even as the government seemed to have created a new population of the displaced with Operation Roundup, thousands of people displaced by Operation Murambatsvina remained in transit or holding camps one year later. Worse, they say authorities are depriving them of essentials like clean drinking water and blocking aid organizations from providing assistance to force those in the camps to relocate to rural areas.

With the help of the National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations, reporters this week visited several such camps - but were barred from entering the infamous Hopely Farm transit camp just south of Harare, as Irwin Chifera reported.

For a perspective on the latest government roundup just days before the anniversary of the May-July 2005 Operation Murambatsvina, reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer John Makumbe what motivated Harare to again dislocate thousands of its citizens.

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