- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

BINDURA, Zimbabwe The man who commanded the notorious Fifth Brigade massacres in Matabeleland in the 1980s is masterminding Zimbabwe's violent farm invasions, senior officials of the ruling ZANU-PF party have conceded.

Gen. Perence Shiri, who now heads Zimbabwe's air force, is said to be coordinating the land seizures and organizing food and transport for the mix of government supporters and liberation-war veterans who have invaded more than 1,000 white-owned farms.

Gen. Shiri's name also appears on a list of 28 senior government and military figures given farms seized from white farmers. These were supposed to be handed to landless people.

The government and military have always denied involvement in the occupations, which started 10 weeks ago and have resulted in the deaths of two white farmers and 15 laborers and opposition workers.

But some ruling-party officials, worried that the situation is getting out of control, have now given a different version of events to the Sunday Telegraph.

They say President Robert Mugabe ordered the invasions after he lost a referendum on a new constitution in February, and that they have been meticulously planned by the military. Gen. Shiri, they add, has deployed more than 1,000 troops in civilian clothes to lead the operations, and recruited others with the offer of a daily allowance and free food.

It was reported over the weekend that Zimbabwe's armed forces were not only directing the occupations, but had also imported shipment of Russian arms, including 21,000 AK-47 assault rifles to be distributed among the squatters.

The local newspaper report cited several farming areas such as Beatrice, 30 miles from Harare, where army officers were on the ground running operations.

The army's involvement explains the squatters' surprising ability to quickly moving large groups of men to invade new farms. Chenjerai Hunzvi, the war veterans' leader, travels between farms in a helicopter provided by Gen. Shiri's air force.

The military link also explains why there are so many young people among veterans of a war that ended 20 years ago, and why they are so well-equipped.

Last week, Britain's foreign secretary, Robin Cook, announced the suspension of Land Rover sales to the Zimbabwean army after claims by white farmers that these were being used to transport the squatters.

Gen. Shiri's name strikes fear into the hearts of many Zimbabweans who remember his ruthless crushing of a rebellion in Matabeleland between 1982 and 1987. Tens of thousands of people died in massacres carried out by his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, and mass graves have been uncovered in recent years.

Gen. Shiri is one of 28 close allies of Mr. Mugabe named on a list obtained by the Sunday Telegraph as having received farms, compulsorily purchased from white owners in the land-redistribution program, which were supposed to go to landless peasants. The list includes government ministers, permanent secretaries, provincial governors, army generals and judges.

Those named include parliament Speaker Cyril Ndebele; George Charamba, the president's spokesman; Attorney General Patrick Chinamasa; Gen. Vitalis Zvinavashe, commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces; and provincial governors.

"This list is evidence of Mr. Mugabe's bad faith and proof that he has abused his land-reform program to enrich himself and a small circle of kleptocrats around him," said Francis Maude, a British Conservative Party member.

He called for Mr. Mugabe's assets to be seized and for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the Commonwealth.

Neighbors of Gen. Shiri's 3,600-acre Ruia Falls Farm in Bindura pointed out yesterday that his is the only one in the area not to have been invaded.

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