- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

JOHANNESBURG More than 2 months after Zimbabwe's disputed presidential elections, the country's food crisis has deteriorated to near-famine proportions with the United Nations estimating that 6 million people will require emergency food aid in coming months.

The United Nations says the seizure of white-owned commercial farms by ruling party supporters during the past two years, coupled with the worst drought in 20 years, has created an estimated deficit of 1.5 million tons of Zimbabwe's staple crop, corn.

Thousands in rural areas already are receiving food aid, despite the recent harvest, and donors plan to extend aid to urban areas in the near future.

"Zimbabwe is facing a serious food crisis, even at harvest time, and unless international food assistance is provided urgently and adequately, there will be a serious famine and loss of life in the coming months," concluded a joint report by the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

In March, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe declared victory over opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), after a campaign characterized by violence, intimidation and charges of vote rigging.

The international community, including the United States, has largely condemned the election as unfair and called Mr. Mugabe's election illegitimate.

In the two years leading up to the campaign, the government had tried to garner support among rural blacks by claiming nearly 95 percent of white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks and encouraging landless squatters to occupy the listed farms.

In recent weeks, however, the government has begun kicking squatters off occupied farms, distributing the land to ruling party elite.

A report released last week by white farmers says that hundreds of senior ruling party, military and police officials, relatives of Mr. Mugabe and even journalists from state media have been allocated land.

The information in the report was drawn up from government advertisements and supported by information from individual farmers.

In a statement Thursday, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo denied the report's findings but said government officials were not excluded from a program to allocate land to 54,000 new black commercial farmers.

Meanwhile, the persecution of independent journalists and opposition supporters continues.

Since March 15, when Zimbabwe's harsh new media law took effect, 11 journalists have been arrested.

American citizen Andrew Meldrum, who writes for the Guardian newspaper and is a permanent resident of Zimbabwe, and Lloyd Mudiwa, a reporter for the Daily News, Zimbabwe's only independent daily, appeared in court Thursday on a charge of printing falsehoods in relation to a story about the beheading of an opposition supporter. The Daily News retracted the story after it could not substantiate it, but the government has continued to press charges against the reporters. The two journalists will be tried on June 12 and June 20, respectively.

Local rights groups also say attacks against opposition supporters are continuing at levels higher than before the election.

A report on post-election violence released last month by the Amani Trust, a group that has been working against political violence since the country became independent in 1980, determined there was a concerted campaign of retribution against the MDC.

"The organized violence and torture has persisted after the presidential election, and, to date, is being recorded at levels higher than in the pre-election period," the report says. "There is a campaign of retribution being carried out against MDC supporters, and it is significant that this violence was threatened prior to the election."

Amnesty International said in a report released May 28 that the London-based rights group documented cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, abductions and disappearances in the run-up to the election.

The government also has begun enforcing new security laws that make illegal almost any criticism of the government or the president. At least six opposition activists and four white farmers were arrested last month and charged with subversion under a law passed in the months leading up to the election.

The law, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, requires police permission for almost any political meeting and allows police to break up even authorized meetings.

Still, Mr. Tsvangirai has hinted in recent weeks that the MDC might organize a campaign of national disobedience and has spent recent weeks traveling around the country and speaking to voters.

"For the Zimbabwean people, the resolve must be stronger in the face of an illegitimate government that stole an election and seeks to impose itself on the people against their will," he said.

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