Zimbabwe Awards 6,000 Military Officers Land

In a speech marking Defense Forces Day on Tuesday the embattled president, who has led the country since 1980, announced the plan to benefit Army and Air Force officers.

“The responsible authorities are looking into the matter with the view of allocating land to these remaining deserving cadres,” Mugabe said, according to South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper.

Under the plan, some soldiers will receive commercial farm land seized by the government from white farmers, while others will get plots in the city, where government officials recently authorized the bulldozing and torching of homes formerly owned by the city’s poor.

The razing of the shanty towns, termed Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive Out Rubbish, has received international attention. A United Nations report called the exercise, hailed by Mugabe as an effort to reduce crime in the city, a “catastrophic injustice” that has forced some 700,000 people from their homes.

Both the United States and Britain have called on immediate action from the U.N. Security Council in response to the situation, BBC News reported.

On Wednesday under pressure from Western nations, African Union President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano to help mediate the ongoing crisis.

Land redistribution in Zimbabwe has been contentious since 2000 when veterans of the country’s 1972 conflict to end white rule began violent invasions of white owned farms.

The veterans, and later the government, claimed the land rightfully belonged to Zimbabwe’s black population who had been displaced during colonization.

Since then, Mugabe’s government has seized the property of about 4,000 white landowners and distributed about 80 percent of it to blacks. Critics of the program blame the redistribution for the country’s economic decline, including chronic food shortages and skyrocketing unemployment.

A recent World Bank study showed that agriculture, once the main industry in Zimbabwe, now makes up only 40 percent of the country’s exports.

On Wednesday, Mugabe rejected a proposal from Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono to return some land to white farmers to help revive the economy, Reuters reported.

“The land here is for the black people and we are not going to give it back to anybody,” Land Resettlement chief Didymus Mutasa told the country’s state-owned newspaper. “We are not inviting any white farmers back.”

Gono proposed the plan following criticism that many of the black farmers who have received land under the redistribution program are unskilled in food production and agriculture, a leading reason for the economic crisis, according to critics.