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U.S. staff stage-managed food scramble-Zimbabwe

HARARE, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Two Americans detained by pro-government militants in Zimbabwe last week were part of a group that stage-managed and filmed a scramble for food among farm workers, the official Herald newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The incident stemmed from "intrusive and interventionist behaviour by some U.S. embassy personnel," Information and Publicity Minister Jonathan Moyo told the newspaper.

The U.S. Embassy in Harare on Monday lodged a complaint with President Robert Mugabe's government, saying men who called themselves war veterans had assaulted an embassy worker.

It said the incident took place last Friday as embassy employees conducted a survey of farm workers allegedly displaced by the country's land reforms in order to asses the need for humanitarian aid.

The embassy said two Americans -- an embassy employee and a U.N. official -- as well as a Zimbabwean embassy employee and another Zimbabwean citizen were forcibly held and interrogated. The Zimbabweans were also beaten, it added.

The embassy said the attack was "symptomatic of the lawlessness that has affected Zimbabwe for the last two and a half years" and urged the Harare government to "restore the rule of law and respect for human rights".

Moyo said: "There are no displaced farm workers in Zimbabwe and the embassy knows that. As to claims that there is lawlessness, purely on the basis of this incident, that is over the top and quite preposterous."

The Herald said the embassy group was detained after allegedly throwing food from a moving vehicle to farm workers, who were then filmed as they jostled for the handouts.

A loaded camera and two computer discs were reportedly confiscated from the group, the newspaper added.

Earlier this month, Zimbabwe accused the United States of trying to use widespread food shortages as a pretext to interfere in its internal affairs.

Zimbabwe's once healthy agricultural sector lurched into crisis in 2000, when Mugabe allowed pro-government militants led by veterans of the country's 1970s independence war to invade white-owned farms to support his drive to redistribute land among landless blacks.

Rights groups say an estimated 250,000 farm workers and their families have lost their jobs and homes as a result of the land reforms, which Mugabe says are necessary to correct the imbalances of colonialism.

The United States does not consider Mugabe the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe because of what it regards as a rigged election earlier this year, and a senior official said in August that Washington was working to isolate him.

Last week Washington asked Harare for a detailed report into the killing of an American lecturer, who was shot dead by police at a roadblock which they said he had tried to drive through.

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U.S. staff stage-managed food scramble-Zimbabwe

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