War veterans illegally occupying a white-owned commercial farm near Nkayi, 320 miles south of Harare, have turned a church on the farm into their "base," preventing Christians in the area from using it for worship.

The church building is on Goulay Farm, owned by a white farmer, Richard Pascal. The farm is one of dozens of white-owned properties invaded by Zimbabweans last year claiming to be veterans of the black liberation struggle in the 1970s.

With tacit support from Robert Mugabe's government, war veterans have occupied 1,700 white-owned commercial farms since February 2000.

The government, which points out that Zimbabwe's white minority owns much of the nation's arable land, is handing farms over to black Zimbabweans. Pascal won a High Court order stopping the government from expropriating his 52,000-acre farm. But the war veterans ignored the court order and invaded the farm.

The church is normally used by peasant farmers and farm workers for worship. The building accommodates more than 400 people, and five different denominations shared it until the building was taken over. It was built at a cost of over US$1 million through donations from foundations in the United States. The complex has a new wing under construction intended to become a medical clinic for local farm workers in the area, but the occupation by the war veterans has brought construction to a halt.

When a reporter from The Daily News, a Harare newspaper, visited the farm last week, 12 of the war veterans were cooking food inside the church building.

A pastor from the Victory Fellowship church, one of the five denominations, who asked the newspaper not to publish his name, said of the veterans' occupation of the church and the farm: "It is a matter we have ...

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