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Zimbabwe farm violence reported

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Violence is reported to have spread across white-owned farms in Zimbabwe, as the trial of 21 white farmers is set to resume.

Pro-government militants had engaged in widespread looting, assaults and arson, according to farmers' leaders.

The 21 farmers appearing in court in Chinhoyi are charged with violence against black squatters, who have been campaigning for redistribution of land.

Farmers and their families were forced out of 10 farms in the Lion's Den, Mhangura and Doma districts near the provincial centre of Chinhoyi on Thursday, the Commercial Farmers Union said.

The Chinhoyi court has adjourned the farmers' bail hearings to Friday, ordering the men held in custody for a fourth night, the Associated Press reported.

Thousands of black squatters -- led by President Robert Mugabe's ruling party militants and veterans of the Zimbabwean war of independence -- have occupied more than 1,700 white-owned farms since spring last year.

The farmers on trial insist they are the victims of violent attacks from the squatters, enforcing Mugabe's orders for "fast track" confiscation without compensation of 4,600 farms -- about 95 percent of properties owned by whites across the country.

Spokespeople for the farmers told The Associated Press there were fears the extended hearing would trigger more violence against whites by ruling party militants.

But Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo has blamed the farmers for the violence against blacks on their land.

Nkomo said on state television: "It is true the farmers have been attacking people... it is the farmers who are unleashing this violence. Measures are being taken to nip it in the bud," reported AP.

One white-owned farm just south of the town of Chinyoui was besieged by militants on Wednesday.

A neighbour told AP that farmer Trevor Cuerdon was forced to flee his property after receiving death threats from the militants.

The man said local farmers believed the threats against Cuerdon were a trap to provoke aggression from other farmers in his defence, which would lead to more arrests.

The white landowners Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) told AP farmers arrested on Monday were held after they went to help a besieged neighbour, prompting violent clashes with the militants occupying his land.

CFU told AP activists wielding clubs and sticks chased farmer Tony Barklay into his house and attempted to break down the door, demanding he leave the property.

After Barklay called for help, militants stoned the cars of two white neighbours who arrived at his home. They were followed by about 25 other farmers from the district who came to their assistance.

The arrests coincide with the Heroes' Day public holiday this weekend in honour of black guerrillas who fought to gain independence from Britain in 1980.

• Zimbabwe government

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