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White farms looted, destroyed in Zimbabwe



HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- Looters burned and destroyed white-owned farms Sunday, the fifth consecutive day of such racial violence in a farming area in the northern part of the country.

At least 15 farms in the Doma district -- an area that produces corn and tobacco about 70 miles northwest of here -- were looted Sunday as a crowd of about 300 black settlers went from property to property.

Many white farmers tried in vain to negotiate with the angry crowds in what appeared to be a powerless bid to save their property.

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About 300 family members have fled about 100 farms in recent days, while most of the men stayed behind, according to The Associated Press. Some have also been forced to leave once the looters arrive.

Some were flown out on light aircraft to the Kariba airport after mobs blocked several roads, the AP reported. Most farmers were gathering at secret safe houses at night.

One farmer who fled his property Saturday came back Sunday to find his home burned to the ground.

There was a limited police presence in the area. Police had set up checkpoints along some roads, but there were no officers visible at any of the farms.

"It's totally out of hand. [We're] evacuating women and children and the elderly and the sick," one official was reported by the AP as saying; he asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Most observers said they expected the looting to continue Monday, a public holiday.

On Saturday, President Robert Mugabe promised to move ahead with government-sponsored land seizures of white-owned farms and warned the farmers not to resist his land redistribution program.

"We will proceed with current land reform with or without sanctions," Mugabe said. "Let that position be known here and abroad and let the commercial farmers tell that to their constituency or constituencies overseas."

The government has targeted about 4,600 white-owned farms for confiscation without compensation. The farms account for about 95 percent of the white-owned land.

Groups of squatters led by veterans of the war for independence that ended white rule in 1980 began illegally taking over white-owned farms in February 2000. Since then, they have occupied more than 1,700 farms.

The occupiers were blamed for much of the violence accompanying last year's parliamentary elections in which at least 36 people were killed, nine of them white farmers, the AP reported.

The Doma area is where 22 white farmers were arrested last Monday after a clash with settlers.

The incident began after one of the farmers put out an emergency call on his radio that his homestead was being attacked by settlers. When other farmers in the area responded to help, a clash erupted between the two sides.

The settlers claimed the clash was unprovoked.

The incident unleashed a wave of racial violence in the nearby city of Chinhoyi, including street attacks on white residents.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, threatening travel and economic sanctions unless the country restores the rule of law and ends politically motivated violence and intimidation.

-- Journalist Bob Coen contributed to this report.






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