Zimbabwe to compensate foreigners for land

HARARE - Zimbabwe will pay compensation in foreign currency for land seized from foreigners, but the land owners could still challenge the seizures in court, a cabinet minister has said.

Since 2000, President Robert Mugabe's government has taken over thousands of white-owned commercial farms after backing often violent invasions led by veterans of the country's 1970s struggle against white rule.

The government last August passed laws that nationalised all such farms, barring farmers from challenging the seizure of their property in courts. Many economists and critics say the programme has ruined a once-thriving agricultural sector.

Some of the confiscated land belonged to foreign countries despite being protected under bilateral agreements.

Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, who heads land reform and resettlement, said those with farms covered by such deals would receive full compensation and have the right to contest the seizures in court.

"Mutasa assured diplomats in Harare that the farms are not acquired in accordance with the recent Amendment 17 of 2005 as the farmers will be allowed to contest the acquisition in court unlike other farmers in the country," state television reported.

"In those unavoidable cases where land has to be acquired, compensation has to be paid in full and in the currency of the owner's choice for both land and improvements," it quoted Mutasa as saying.

Mugabe's government has vowed not to pay white farmers compensation for the land but only for improvements, arguing that former colonial power Britain should pay for the land.

According to state television, the issue of farms covered by bilateral agreements has been a contentious one, forcing the government to set up a committee to look into foreign land holdings.

Mugabe defends the the land reforms as necessary to redress colonial policies that put 70 per cent of the most fertile land in the hands of a few white farmers and accuses the West of sabotaging the economy to punish him for the land seizures.

- REUTERS

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