Profile: Zimbabwe

The following are basic facts about Zimbabwe:

Area: 390,000 square km (150,600 sq miles), bordering Zambia to the north, Botswana to the west, South Africa to the south and Mozambique to the east.

Capital: Harare.

Population: 12.5 million (1998).

Language: English, Shona, Ndebele.

Religion: Mainly Christian.

Ethnic Groups: Shonas make up about 75 percent of the population, Ndebeles about 20 percent. There are about 100,000 whites and 25,000 people of mixed race.

Climate: Warm throughout the year, with rains between November and March. The highland areas are wet and the lowlands dry with slight rainfall.

Currency: Zim Dollar.

Time Zone: GMT +2.

Economic Indicators

GDP: ZD 136 billion ($3.58 billion) (1998)

Per Capita: ZD 10,700 (1998)

Growth: 1.2 percent (1999).

Inflation: 57 percent (1999 average).

Military StatisticS

Armed Forces: 39,000 active soldiers

Army: 35,000, reducing, with 40 main battle tanks.

Air Force: 4,000 with 58 combat aircraft and 26 armed helicopters.

Paramilitary: 19,500 (including Air Wing).

Political Profile

White rule came in 1890 through the British South Africa Company searching for gold. In 1923 white settlers voted for a self-governing British colony.

In 1953, it was joined with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zambia and Malawi) in the white-ruled Central African Federation. Black nationalist opposition and independence in Zambia and Malawi broke up the federation in 1963.

In November 1965, Prime Minister Ian Smith declared unilateral independence from Britain rather than accept proposals for black majority rule. Black nationalist groups led by the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) began guerrilla campaigns against Smith's Rhodesian Front government in 1966.

The guerrilla war intensified in the 1970s, with ZANU operating from Mozambique after Maputo's independence from Portugal in 1975, and ZAPU from Zambia.

The war forced Smith into a political settlement in 1978 with several black leaders, including Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who became prime minister in 1979 of what was called Zimbabwe Rhodesia. His government failed to get international acceptance.

War raged on and Britain staged a peace conference in London. Under the Lancaster House independence deal of 1979, Robert Mugabe's ZANU, and Joshua Nkomo's ZANU agreed to end the war and contest general elections in February 1980.

ZANU and ZAPU, which had formed a guerrilla war alliance, split amid personality and ideological differences. The elections won ZANU 57 parliamentary seats, ZAPU 20 and Muzorewa's United African National Council three.

Smith's Rhodesian Front took 20 seats reserved for white voters under the settlement. Mugabe became the first prime minister of Zimbabwe at independence on April 18, 1980.

The gulf between ZANU and ZAPU widened after independence and Nkomo, made a cabinet minister after the poll, was fired by Mugabe in February, 1982 for allegedly plotting a coup.

Mugabe deployed the North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade into Matabeleland, where, according to a 1998 report commissioned by the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe, they carried out a terror campaign. Most leading ZAPU politicians were killed or arrested.

In 1987, Mugabe and Nkomo agreed to re-unite their parties under the banner of ZANU-PF. Nkomo was appointed vice-president after the accord. Before the merger, parliament abolished reserved white seats and elected new deputies, including whites, to fill the vacancies. It also passed a law creating an executive president, a post filled by Mugabe in 1988.

Mugabe's government faced a splintered opposition for most of the 1980s and was re-elected in 1990, capturing 147 seats in the 150-member parliament against three for the opposition.

A new opposition party, the Forum Party of Zimbabwe, was launched in 1993, led by former chief justice Enock Dumbutshena, but it failed to capture a single seat in the 1995 elections.

Mugabe was re-elected president in March 1996, in the lowest turnout - under 32 percent - of all the elections he had contested since independence. His two opponents, Ndabaningi Sithole and Muzorewa, pulled out at the last minute.

In 1998 an economic crisis of high interest rates and inflation, a weak currency and rising unemployment provoked riots and massive support for the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions, headed by Morgan Tsvangirai. A series of general strikes paralysed the country in January, March and November.

Tension continued to rise in early 1999, with the unpopularity of Zimbabwe's military involvement in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo growing and the failure in the courts of Mugabe's land resettlement scheme.

Later that year, Mugabe appointed a 400-member constitutional reform commission after a campaign by opposition parties and civic groups, but he packed it with government supporters. Critics said the draft constitution it proposed aimed at consolidating Mugabe's powers.

In February, Mugabe suffered a humiliating defeat in a public vote on the draft constitution. Weeks later, veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s war of liberation began invading white-owned farms, saying the land was illegally seized by colonists.

Zimbabwe holds talks on land issue with former colonial power Britain but talks collapse soon after start and veterans step up their land grab.

The government is accused of using the land invasions to launch a terror campaign against rural voters suspected of supporting the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in parliamentary elections called for June 24-25. ($1-37.95 Zimbabwe Dollar)