May 30, 2006

Pictures show destruction of Zimbabwe community

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Human Rights Group Amnesty International
released satellite images on Wednesday showing the obliteration
of a large community during last year's settlement clearances
in Zimbabwe that made some 700,000 people homeless.

The particularly graphic before and after shots show the
destruction of the Porta Farm settlement 20 km (12 miles) west
of Harare that was until last year home to up to 10,000 people.

Where once stood 850 structures including homes and schools
is now empty scrub land with only the outlines of the former
streets to hint at what used to be there.

"These images ... are a graphic indictment of the
Zimbabwean government's policies. They show the horrifying
transition of an area from a vibrant community to rubble and
shrubs," Amnesty Africa director Kolawole Olaniyan said.

The pictures from Digital Globe, Inc. were acquired,
processed and analyzed by the American Association for the
Advancement of Science with funding from the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation., and given to Amnesty.

The Zimbabwean government said it launched Operation
Murambatsvina (Restore Order) in May last year to remove
illegal settlements that had mushroomed around Harare.

It was widely condemned as brutal and inhumane, and critics
accused President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government of using
it as an excuse to victimize urban opposition strongholds.

Amnesty, noting that government supporters also lost homes,
said the clearances and forced dispersal of the inhabitants
back to rural villages was at the behest of the security
services who feared the settlements were set to explode.

Inflation in the former breadbasket of Africa is now
running officially at 1,040 percent -- but unofficially at
1,800 percent -- and 90 percent of the population are below the
poverty line.

So catastrophic are conditions in the former British colony
of Rhodesia that average life expectancy is now just 34 years
compared with 55 when it won independence in 1980.

The irony of Porta Farm is that it was established by the
government in 1991 as a temporary home for thousands of
squatters whose shacks had been demolished in Harare in
clean-up exercises ahead of a Commonwealth summit hosted by

Although their stay at Porta was meant to be temporary, the
settlement expanded over the years as rising poverty in the
capital Harare drove people to the settlement where they eked
out a living from fishing and working on neighboring farms.

Porta farm residents clashed with police while resisting
eviction from the settlement in 2004. Police however denied a
report by Amnesty that some 10 people died as a result of
teargas fired during the clashes.

(Additional reporting by Stella Mapenzauswa in Harare)