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From The Sunday Times (UK), 31 December 2000

Zimbabwe farmers warned 'don't sell out to the devil'

FOR Roy Bennett, the only white farmer in Zimbabwe's parliament, the past few months have brought personal tragedy and economic disaster. Since war veterans invaded his Charleswood estate in the foothills of the Chimanimani mountains in May, he has lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue, a lucrative Scottish contract is in doubt and his wife has miscarried. Last night, however, as Bennett, 43, looked forward to what is set to be another turbulent year, he warned against any let-up in the struggle to remove President Robert Mugabe from office, saying he feared some fellow whites were so dispirited they were contemplating "supping with the devil".

Bennett became a symbol of resistance to the war veterans who invaded hundreds of white farms this year, turning his idyllic estate into a stronghold for the opposition MDC, which he now represents. It came at a terrible cost. Charleswood was invaded in May, Bennett was subjected to numerous death threats and his workers were beaten up. His cattle were shot and eaten, his dogs chased away and his wife, Heather, and children, Charles and Casey, forced into hiding.

Bennett did his best to protect his family with security guards, but he could only watch in horror as the invaders wrecked the estate, ruining 100 tons of this year's coffee crop and destroying the preparations for another three years of planting. He estimates the losses at more than £200,000. A Scottish marketing company interested in building a coffee production plant on the estate has since developed cold feet. Then, as the worst seemed to be over, his wife miscarried. "It's been a really tough time. Heather lost our baby, and I've hardly been at home," said Bennett. "And financially we're only just surviving."

He was, nevertheless, elected in June, becoming one of only four white MPs. The eight-hour drive to and from Chimanimani at weekends was exhausting, however, and he has handed over the running of Charleswood to Rocky Stone, his farm manager, and leased another farm near Harare. "We've got to get some kind of family life back," he said. "We've got to make the best of it. We're making it work, putting our backs into it." His children are safely at boarding schools in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.

Bennett said he saw his mission as persuading fellow farmers to shake off their fear and believe in Zimbabwe's future. "Too many are frustrated. A lot have got to the state where they want to give up. But I say we keep going. Our long-term future is here. This is my home." There was a danger, however, that some within the CFU would compromise with Mugabe. "I'd like to see a call for early presidential elections - nobody can see a future with the man who's there at the moment," he said. "But my main worry is farmers doing a deal, supping with the devil and giving in. They should trust the law." Bennett is pursuing his own fight for justice with a civil law suit against Agrippa Natanga, the Mugabe henchman he blames for much of the violence on Charleswood. The Zimbabwean president appears in no mood to compromise, however. "I will overthrow those who want to overthrow me," he said at a State House function last week. Mugabe also told whites to give up the notion that the country's judicial system could save them. "We will take the land whether they like it or not."

The MDC has been accused by many supporters of doing little since making dramatic inroads into Mugabe's Zanu-PF majority in the election. Many middle-class whites have been angered by the cancellation of protests and strikes. Bennett defends such caution, however. "I'm finding out where the MDC is going wrong," he said. "Maybe we've got too many academics, saying do this and do that, and possibly they're the ones giving the wrong impression. But we've got a lot of workers on the ground. I know my constituency is 100% behind me. Our greatest asset is our people," he said. "A lot of Zanu people are very good, totally opposed to what's going on." Eventually Mugabe would go, taking his policies into the dustbin of history with him, he said. "I do believe that in the 2002 presidential elections we'll do it. Even with intimidation, we'll romp home."

From The Independent (UK), 30 December

Zim tourism to be eclipsed in solar spectacle

Harare - The first total solar eclipse of the millennium, which will cast a lunar shadow across southern Africa on 21 June, should already be brightening the region's tourism industry after a gloomy year caused by political unrest in Zimbabwe. But it looks like Zambia, its neighbour, will be the main beneficiary of this golden opportunity. President Robert Mugabe's policies have resulted in empty hotels across Zimbabwe and there is scant chance that big-money tourists can be persuaded back in numbers to what could be one of the jewels of Africa.

The last total eclipse, on 11 August last year, moved the moon's shadow across parts of Europe at a speed of 2 000km an hour. The 2001 total eclipse, after starting on the Atlantic Ocean, will pass through central Angola, Zambia, northern Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madagascar. "The best place will be in Angola but there are too many landmines to send tourists there, so we are planning to go to a farming area near Lusaka, the Zambian capital, where we are building a tented village for hundreds of tourists,'' said Wild Africa Safaris, a tour operator in Harare. Other groups will be accommodated along the Zambezi river, which divides Zambia and Zimbabwe. Madagascar is also expected to enjoy an influx of tourists but Mozambique is set to lose out as infrastructure is poor in the area, which will move into darkness for three and a half minutes from 1.12pm (GMT).

Tourism officials hope that the historic nature of the event will - literally - overshadow the bad publicity the region has suffered since land occupations began in Zimbabwe in February. Sit-ins and violent attacks on 1 500 white-owned farms by liberation-war veterans commandeered by Mugabe have caused mass cancellations throughout the region. "The situation in the country has been a disaster for the tourism industry, especially for the indigenous professionals whose companies are generally the smallest and the first to suffer,'' said a black tour operator at Victoria Falls. He said that, one day last week, only seven rooms were booked at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel, which is normally full at this time of year - the southern hemisphere summer season - and charges about £300 a night. Across the river in Livingstone, Zambia, a five-star Sun International hotel, set to open in April, has reportedly lost 50 percent of its inaugural bookings.

Tourism officials in Zimbabwe insist that visitors are completely safe and that none was affected by the disturbances that caused 31 deaths in the period leading up to parliamentary elections in which the ruling party faced its first serious opposition challenge since majority government began 20 years ago. Leslie Gwindi, the public relations manager for the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), says the nearest farm to Victoria Falls is 45km away and has not been occupied. He insists that, despite widespread fuel shortages, provision has been made for transporting tourists. The ZTA is organising press trips for travel journalists and launched an aggressive campaign at the World Travel Market in London.

After farming and mining, tourism was until this year Zimbabwe's biggest foreign currency earner. Figures from the country's Central Statistical Office (CSO) show that tourism declined by 200 000 visitors this year against the 1.4 million who arrived in Zimbabwe for a holiday in the first nine months of 1999. But other evidence suggests a much bleaker picture. Hotels and tour operators admit to large-scale staff lay-offs as bookings have fallen to below 40 percent capacity. Whereas, according to the CSO, an average of 58 percent of Zimbabwe's hotel and bed-and-breakfast rooms were occupied in June 1999, only 20 percent of available rooms had been sold in June this year.

Eclipse Safaris, one of the most high-profile tour groups travelling to southern Africa in June, had originally intended to take its group to Zimbabwe but opted instead for the "Solar Eclipse Tented Village" 50 minutes' drive east of Lusaka. According to the American company's website, "the situation in Zimbabwe has steadily deteriorated and the economy weakened rapidly'' and Zambia was chosen even though it is "underdeveloped and logistically more difficult".

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From The Star (SA), 29 December

Intruder shot dead outside Mugabe's home

Harare - A man was shot dead outside the official residence of Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, on Thursday night after demanding to be allowed into the grounds, police said on Friday. A police spokesperson said the man was drunk, abusive and had refused an order from security guards at the residence to leave. "He was shot in the shoulder and died on the spot," the spokesperson said, without elaborating. The intruder, who was not identified, got past a police roadblock about 500m from Mugabe's residence before he was stopped.

From a reader, 29 December
Farmer Patrick Hyde from Mvurwi arrested for "malicious damage" today following accusations by resident war veterans that shots were fired at their cattle at 2 am.  The police with CIO then changed the charges to 12 counts of attempted murder.  They searched the farm house where there were no weapons. The only "evidence" at all seems to be two wads from 12 bore cartridges near where the alleged shots were fired. He is currently at Mvurwi police station but there indications that he will transferred to Bindura tomorrow.

From News24 (SA), 30 December

Bid to quell strife ahead of Zim's January by-elections

Harare - Zimbabwe's government on Wednesday deployed hundreds of riot police to quell increasing violence between supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition MDC ahead of a by-election on 13 January. Two people are feared dead in the violence in Bikita West constituency and at least 100 have been injured, The Star reported on Thursday. The seat fell vacant after the death of MDC legislator Amos Mutongi last month. The MDC has vowed to retain its seat while Zanu-PF has declared that its loss of the constituency in Zimbabwe's landmark elections earlier this year was a "miracle that would never be allowed to happen again".

Bikita West was one of the few rural constituencies won by the MDC in the June elections in which the opposition party won 57 seats to the Zanu-PF's 62. Both the MDC and Zanu-PF are using the by-elections as an opportunity to gauge their support ahead of the 2002 presidential election, The Star said. Zanu-PF last month won the first by-election held after the June elections in Marondera West constituency with a much-reduced majority. The MDC fears its support base might be severely shaken if it loses the second by-election in succession. The opposition party has therefore deployed hundreds of youths to help campaign for its candidate in the constituency.

Zanu-PF had deployed groups of self-styled war veterans who have unleashed a reign of terror in the constituency. The MDC said about 100 of its supporters had been injured in violence in the constituency by Thursday. Chenjerai Hunzvi, leader of the war veterans, who have also seized hundreds of white-owned farms, has been stationed in the Bikita West constituency over the past week to direct the campaign against the opposition. The MDC has vowed revenge if Hunzvi's squads - which have started a door-to-door campaign in the constituency - persisted in targeting its supporters. Hunzvi has publicly stated that by the time the by-election is held on 13 January, Bikita West would be a "no-go area for the opposition", according to The Star.

From The Daily News, 29 December

Company documents go missing at Registrar's office

Company documents of Soundrider Communications (Pvt) Ltd, which operated an unlicensed and unnamed filling station from September to the end of November at the Cold Comfort Farm Trust premises in Harare, have gone missing at the Registrar of Companies' offices. Didymus Mutasa, the Zanu PF secretary for external relations, is the chairman of the trust. Documents from the Registrar of Companies in Harare showed that the company was registered in 1998, under file number 619/98. Officials have failed to locate the file after The Daily News tried to find out the names of other directors of the company on two occasions.

Elliot Makombo, the Registrar of Companies, yesterday said: "We have failed to locate the file. I have asked the company's proprietors to give me their documents so that we can update the file." Makombo said the documents were open for public inspection and when they were available The Daily News would be free to study them. Meng Yunpu, a Chinese national resident in Zimbabwe for the past 10 years, is the managing director of the company. He says he owns 49 percent of Soundrider <BR>Communications, with the remainder belonging to indigenous business people he has constantly refused to name, but are said to include a number of prominent, politically well-connected entrepreneurs. Early this month Yunpu produced a licence granted by the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe on 28 November after The Daily News published a picture of the filling station in October. The company was given the approval to import fuel three months after The Daily News discovered that Soundrider was operating illegally.

Yunpu said yesterday: "What do you want this time? The story you published has disturbed my business. Not as many people are coming to buy diesel as they did before you wrote that story. My friend, I do not have much to say about this issue, but there is diesel for sale here." He said: "Please do not link my business to politicians. I want to tell you that I am not linked or related to any officials from Zanu PF. I am just a businessman." The filling station sells diesel at $40 per litre instead of the gazetted price of $39,57 per litre. Mutasa recently threatened a Daily News reporter with unspecified action when he was asked about the filling station. He said it was the role of the police, not an investigative reporter, to probe the company if there were any irregularities.

From The Star (SA), 29 December

UN calls on Rwanda, Uganda to leave DRC

United Nations - Security council members told Rwanda and Uganda on Thursday to stop their offensive and withdraw their forces from the DRC following recent heavy fighting in south-east Katanga and the northern Equateur provinces. The council, in a statement, "call on Ugandan and Rwandan forces immediately to cease their offensive in these two regions and also call on all parties to put in place, in conformity with their commitments, an effective ceasefire." The statement, read by Council President Sergei Lavrov, Russia's UN ambassador, however, noted that other foreign forces in the country supporting Congo President Laurent Kabila had to reciprocate and withdraw their troops also.

Rival rebel groups, supported by Rwanda and Uganda, have been trying since August 1998 to topple Kabila, who is backed by troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. France has been urging council members to criticise Rwandan and Ugandan military activities while the United States and Britain contend none of the foreign armies should be in the Congo, even at the government's invitation, diplomats said. The Congo's UN mission, meanwhile, sent a letter to the council saying that Rwanda was using neighbouring Zambia to launch attacks on Katanga province. "My government takes this opportunity to express its profound concern in the face of this unfriendly act by the Zambian authorities who appear to be granting free passage to the forces of aggression on their territory," said Atokie Ileka, the Congo's acting UN ambassador.

Zambia put its army on full alert last week after an influx of thousands of troops from Congo. Senior Zambian intelligence sources said the army was prepared to deal with any threat to its people either by undisciplined Congo soldiers or Rwandan-backed rebels who might try to pursue them. Ileka said the Rwandan attacks in Katanga province were still going on. "Even today they are fighting," he said. Zambia helped broker a peace deal for the Congo last year but analysts fear it could itself be sucked into the conflict.

From IRIN (UN), 29 December

UN Genocide Tribunal To Screen Fleeing Troops

Lusaka - As more soldiers cross into Zambia fleeing the conflict in the DRC, a UN official confirmed to IRIN on Friday that the International Criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is seeking Zambian permission to screen the soldiers for genocide suspects and witnesses. Max Mkole, a serving Zambian police commissioner on secondment to the ICTR, said: "I have delivered a request from ICTR prosecutors that the Zambian authorities permit us to travel to northern Zambia with a view to interviewing some of the soldiers as well as civilians who have recently crossed from Congo".

The tribunal tracks down and prosecutes those responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered. Many of the perpetrators fled into the then Zaire following the change of government in Rwanda. Many are known to have joined militia groups fighting alongside DRC government forces seeking to stem a Rwandan and Ugandan-backed rebellion against President Laurent-Desire Kabila. Mkole said that his team was now waiting for official permission to proceed to northern Zambia where the fugitive troops remain under Zambian military authority. "We don't know when we can continue, but once we have the permission we'll be looking for those wanted on genocide charges by the ICTR as well as witnesses, we have no idea how many Hutu Interahamwe militia crossed into Zambia along with the recent influx of DRC and Zimbabwean soldiers," he said.

In an interview with IRIN on Thursday, a Zambian security official said that Zambia was under obligation as a member of the UN to allow the tribunal to screen refugees and fleeing soldiers for genocide suspects and that the operation would probably be carried out in conjunction with UNHCR. More than 4,000 soldiers from the DRC are currently seeking refuge in Zambia's northern Luapula province. The troops are mainly Congolese regulars but include Zimbabwean and possibly Hutu Interahamwe forces. Disarming them has been a difficult task for the already over-stretched Zambian army and reports suggest that hundreds more may be at large with their weapons.

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