HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- A court handed a suspended sentence Thursday to the first white farmer convicted of defying an order to vacate his property under Zimbabwe's campaign to put more land in black hands.
A Harare magistrate gave Deon Theron, a vice president of the white-dominated Commercial Farmers Union, one month to leave his farm and a six-month prison sentence, suspended for five years on condition he does not violate the Land Act.
Theron's lawyer said he would appeal the conviction and sentence.
The 53-year-old dairy farmer was convicted Tuesday of unlawfully remaining on his farm after it was declared state land. The prosecutor had called for his imprisonment.
The prosecutor, who refused to give his name to reporters but was addressed by the magistrate as Mr. Zvakare, urged a quick sentencing and said it was "a serious criminal case."
Observers inside and outside Zimbabwe - once a British colony - blame the meltdown of the country's agriculture-based economy on the often violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms that began on President Robert Mugabe's orders in 2000.
Hyperinflation, goods shortages and crumbling infrastructure have been key campaign issues as the country prepares to vote in general elections Saturday.
Mugabe, who has been in power since independence in 1980 and is seeking re-election Saturday, blames the economic woes on Western economic sanctions.
Theron owns 400 head of dairy cattle on a 900-acre farm south of Harare and supplies about 2,000 gallons of milk a day to stores in Harare at a time when shortages of milk and dairy products are chronic.
Theron says since October he and his family have been harassed and threatened by ruling party militants who also targeted 12 other dairy farmers remaining in the Beatrice dairy-producing district, 40 miles south of Harare.
A former senior official of the state central bank, identified in court as Elias Musakwa, claimed he had been allocated Theron's farm in October, according to court documents. Musakwa is a ruling party parliamentary candidate in Saturday's national polls.