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Zimbabwe Rights Lawyers Scrutinize Displacement of Rural Families

Zimbabwean human rights lawyers are investigating the displacement of more than 4,000 people from farms in Masvingo province that are owned by government officials, and from the village of Chitsa inside the Gonarezhou National Park.

Sources with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the group has been trying to establish contact with some 1,500 people already evicted from three farms in Masvingo so it can get their consent to initiate legal appeals in their behalf.

Zimbabwe's six-year-old land reform program was purportedly undertaken to provide peasants with land, but many farms have ended up in the hands of ministers and other senior government and ruling party officials. Sources said that in recent months, top officials including Higher Education Minister Stan Mudenge, Masvingo Provincial Governor Willard Chiwewe and traditional chief Fortune Charumbira have been pressing ahead with mass evictions of rural squatters from their farms.

Elsewhere, the government said last week that it was relocating about 700 families from Chitsa village under an agreement with South Africa and Mozambique to include the Gonarezhou National Park in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

The government said it had an agreement with villagers for their relocation, but rights lawyers express concern that the rights of the displaced families were not protected.

Attorney Otto Saki of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the latest displacements are of particular concern as it is unclear where the displaced families are being sent.

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