Zimbabwe halts seizures of foreign-owned farms

03 January 2013 - 16:55 By Sapa-AFP
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Zimbabwe has ceased grabbing foreign-owned farms protected by bilateral investment agreements after a group of 40 Dutch farmers won a lawsuit for the loss of their properties, the lands minister said Thursday.

Herbert Murerwa said government has decided to steer clear of farms falling under the so-called Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA), because previous ventures into those farmlands have proved costly.

"All farms under BIPPA will not be acquired under the land reform programme. That's the position we have taken for now," the minister told AFP.

"This is in view of the on-going litigation in the ICSID (International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes)."

The tribunal, which is a branch of the World Bank, in 2009 ruled in favour of the Dutch farmers who had sought compensation for land expropriated by Zimbabwe.

It ordered the government to pay the farmers 8.8 million euros ($11.5 million) in compensation and slapped on a 10 percent interest for every six months from the date the farms were seized until full payment of the amounts.

Minister Murerwa said the government owed the farmers $25 million following their victory at the Washington-based tribunal.

The farms were covered under a deal compelling Zimbabwe to protect investments from countries that penned the pact.

"Government will abide by the provision of the agreements and at the same time we do not want to increase our liability," Murerwa said.

Countries covered by the investment protection agreement include Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Malaysia and Switzerland.

President Robert Mugabe launched a controversial land reform programme in 2000 which saw the often-times violent seizure of more than 3,000 white-owned farms by militant supporters of his ZANU-PF party.

It was argued the land reforms were needed to correct colonial-era imbalances which favoured white farmers.