By MICHAEL WINES
JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 17 — Underscoring the rising desperation in Zimbabwe's economy, the police and paramilitary squads have begun seizing foreign money from tourists and moneychangers in an effort to allay an acute shortage of hard currency, Zimbabwe citizens familiar with the situation there said Monday.
Reports in the government-controlled press said the government was collecting foreign currency to buy gasoline for farm vehicles.
But one knowledgeable Zimbabwean, who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation from the government, said the government appeared to be hoarding money to buy fuel for its military as a precaution against civil unrest.
Zimbabwe has been critically short of gasoline for months.
An independent newspaper in Zambia, The Post, reported on Sunday that police officers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, stopped a busload of Zambian tourists and seized large sums of American dollars, South African rand and other foreign currencies.
In Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe border with Zambia, the police were reported to have confiscated all foreign currency from major travel agencies and safari companies.
The hard currency seizures run counter to Zimbabwe law, which permits both residents and visitors to carry foreign currency. John Robertson, a private economic analyst in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, said in an interview on Monday that the government had apparently been forced to confiscate hard currency because its own appetite for foreign exchange was causing the value of Zimbabwe's dollar to plummet.
Zimbabwe's dollar, officially valued at anywhere from 50 to 800 per American dollar, has traded lately on black markets at about 3,400 per American dollar. Mr. Robertson said the government's efforts to buy foreign exchange had caused the market to spike to as many as 6,000 Zimbabwe dollars for one American dollar.
"It's certainly a mark of desperation," he said.
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