Zimbabwe: Farmers' group laments killings

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A mostly white farmers' group in Zimbabwe is mourning a farmer and his daughter who died after a farm assault reminiscent of violence surrounding land seizures that began in 2000.

The Commercial Farmers' Union said in a statement Friday that it was troubled by what it called the "total silence" of authorities following the attack on Malcom and Catherine Francis, who suffered head injuries from possible axe blows on May 10 and died after surgery. The attack happened in Guruve district in northeastern Zimbabwe.

"There are many other murders and other atrocities committed over the last 14 years during the land reform exercise that are yet to be resolved and their perpetrators have yet to be identified and held to account," the farmer's union said.

It also appealed for an end to land seizures in Zimbabwe, saying the upheaval had damaged the agricultural sector in the former regional breadbasket. Some government officials recognize the economic challenges and are trying to overcome them as well as promote investment, but deadly violence, extortion and theft are undermining those efforts, according to the farmers' group.

Government officials have said there are signs of recovery in Zimbabwe's agricultural sector, whose main crops include include tobacco, maize and cotton.

President Robert Mugabe started the campaign to take white-owned farms and give them to blacks, saying the land had been stolen by European colonizers. About 4,000 white farmers have been removed from their land.

Malcolm Francis, the farmer who was killed, and his daughter took their dogs for an afternoon walk on Muzhanje farm on May 10, according to his son, Jonathan Francis.

The dogs later returned to the house by themselves, and the two were found "bound with wire and unconscious from head injuries, after both being attacked by what was probably an axe or axes, on the side of the farm road where they'd been walking," Jonathan Francis said in a statement earlier this week.

Francis said the motive for the attack was unclear and that police were conducting a vigorous investigation. The farmers' union, however, questioned whether "some higher office" may have condoned the assault and said it hoped police and other authorities would "leave no stone unturned" in their probe.

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