Mugabe promises land to Congo war vets


Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has said soldiers returning from the Congo war will get preferential treatment in the carve-up of seized white farms, a local newspaper reported today.

The official Sunday Mailsaid Mr Mugabe told a rally of his ZANU-PF party in northwestern Zimbabwe that land was still available for all aspiring farmers, but soldiers who fought in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were a special case.

"Those who were in the DRC are a source of pride and honour because they accomplished their mission well," he said.

"Those who have applied for land will be given special consideration and everyone who desires to go into farming should not be denied the opportunity," he added.

Last week Zimbabwe withdrew the last of its troops from the former Zaire where they fought alongside Angolan and Namibian soldiers to defend the Congolese government against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda. At the height of the war, which broke out in August 1998, about 11,000 troops or a third of Zimbabwe's army was deployed.

Zimbabwe has been in turmoil since pro-government militants began invading white-owned farms in early 2000.

Mr Mugabe, in power since the former Rhodesia gained independence from Britain in 1980, says his land drive is aimed at correcting colonial injustice, which left 70 per cent of the country's best land in the hands of white farmers.

The Zimbabwe government has ordered nearly three quarters of the country's 4,500 commercial farmers to quit their land without compensation under a programme to seize white-owned farms to make way for largely landless blacks.

The campaign has drawn criticism at home and abroad and is blamed by analysts for a severe food shortage affecting nearly seven million people or half of the population. The government insists the shortages are solely the result of drought.