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Zimbabwe Farmers Released

Zimbabwean authorities released 21 white farmers Wednesday jailed for two weeks on charges of attacking black squatters occupying white-owned land.

Each of the farmers posted $1,820 bail and a guarantee for the same amount in assets before being reunited with their families.

“It went very well and peacefully,” said Edna Mortimer of the Commercial Farmers Union. “It's good to see the families back together again. It's a good day.”

The 21 farmers were arrested Aug. 6. They denied assaulting the squatters and ruling party militants, saying they had gone to the assistance of a colleague under siege by the squatters, and were attacked first.

Pro-government militants have illegally occupied more than 1,700 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe since last year, spurred by a government campaign to seize 4,600 white farms and redistribute the land to blacks. The targeted farms make up about 95 percent of Zimbabwe's white-owned farmland.

About 4,000 white farmers own approximately one-third of Zimbabwe's farmland, while 8 million blacks live on the remainder.

President Robert Mugabe's land redistribution campaign is viewed as an attempt to bolster his popularity at a time of severe economic crisis ahead of an election scheduled for next year.

The court barred the 21 farmers from returning to their home province of Mashonaland West for four weeks because of fears of renewed violence. An ailing 72-year-old farmer, however, was allowed to return home.

Pro-government militants in the province have looted and burned white-owned homes over the past two weeks.

The court also ordered the farmers to surrender their passports to authorities and to report to the police every Friday.

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