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OVER 600 villagers – including war veterans – occupied Chiredzi sugar cane plantations in Hippo Valley and Triangle estates on Monday, demanding that Government allocate them land.Police yesterday swooped on the group and arrested 169 people, with Lands and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Douglas Mombeshora saying Government would not allow them to remain on the estates a day longer.

The estates are run by sugar giant Tongaat Hulett.

The police officer commanding Masvingo, Senior Assistant Commissioner Martha Mofolo, confirmed the arrests.

Occupation of the estates came after a week of tensions between villagers led by war veterans and the Masvingo provincial leadership over failure to allocate sugar cane plots to 143 people who were issued with offer letters in December 2012.

This was after Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti said the offer letters, issued by former Governor Titus Maluleke, had been cancelled as they had allegedly been improperly issued.

Tongaat Hulett is also under fire for allegedly dragging its feet on a pledge to develop 4 000ha of virgin land in Chiredzi to resettle those issued with offer letters.

However, Dr Mombeshora yesterday denied cancelling the offer letters and insisted they were still valid, though he pointed out that he would not sanction irregular occupation of the estates.

He said the 143 with offer letters should approach the provincial lands committee and be shown their plots.

“We have not cancelled any offer letters and any matters to do with land are the responsibility of the Ministry of Lands. The offer letters in question are still valid and the beneficiaries will be allocated their land after it has been cleared by Tongaat Hulett as per agreement with Government,” he said.

Tongaat Hulett told The Herald that its operations were not disrupted by the occupations.

“The matter is being dealt with appropriately by authorities and operations are continuing as normal,” said corporate affairs and communications manager, Mrs Adelaide Chikunguru-Musvovi.

Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association Masvingo provincial chairman, Cde Francis Nando, said they would remain on the estates until their grievances were addressed.

Cde Nando accused the Zanu-PF provincial leadership of insincerity on redistributing sugar cane plots.

“The political leadership is protecting Tongaat Hulett for reasons best known to themselves,” he charged.

He said arrests would not deter them and they wanted President Mugabe’s intervention.

Dr Mombeshora said the occupation of the estates was illegal.

“We will never allow people without offer letters to occupy land anywhere and those who have occupied cane estates in Chiredzi should go out immediately. We do not condone lawlessness and the police will deal with them,” he warned.

Dr Mombeshora said Government was yet to draw up a policy on acquisition of plantations for resettlement.

Source : The Herald