By Darren Schuettler

Harare - Former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith said on Sunday that he had no intention of renouncing his British citizenship and would fight President Robert Mugabe's government if it tried to take away his Zimbabwe passport.

"They haven't got a hope. They are on such shaky ground that the whole thing will collapse," the veteran white leader said at his home in Harare.

Smith spoke to reporters shortly after hearing that his cattle ranch had been occupied in the latest development of an illegal three-month-old land grab by government supporters.

He responded also to a report in the partly state-owned Herald newspaper on Saturday that the government would order about 86 000 British nationals with dual citizenship to surrender their Zimbabwe passports.

The Herald quoted a statement from the Zimbabwe Citizenship Office saying: "The British nationals ineffectively renounced British citizenship in the form and manner prescribed by the Zimbabwe Citizenship Law.

"They are, therefore, deemed residents and not citizens of Zimbabwe. These people who have not renounced, must surrender all Zimbabwe passports because they are now citizens of the United Kingdom," the statement said.

Zimbabwe banned dual citizenship in 1984, but Britain has never recognised the renunciation of rights to British nationality by Zimbabweans with links to London.

Asked if he would renounce his British citizenship, Smith said: "I have no intention of doing that. Why should I do that?"

Smith said he was forced to get a British passport when the government seized his Zimbabwe papers, which were later returned.

"I gave my British passport back to the British consulate. They said they were not interested. It's yours. We don't take passports from anybody now."

"I have a Zimbabwe passport. I am a Zimbabwean," he added.

Opposition critics say the crackdown on Britons is part of a state-sponsored campaign to intimidate opposition supporters ahead of parliamentary elections due by August.

At least 19 people have died in violence associated with the invasion of hundreds of white-owned farms by liberation war veterans and supporters of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party.

Smith, who at 80 remains as combative as ever, has accused Mugabe of stirring up racial hatred against white farmers and vowed to help defeat Mugabe's "gangster" government at the polls.

Smith, who now divides his time between a house along Harare's leafy embassy row and a cattle farm, led a quarter of million white Rhodesians out of the British fold rather than accept proposals for black majority rule.

But a seven-year guerrilla war forced him to the negotiating table in 1979, followed by Mugabe's election as the country's first black leader a year later.

Smith's farm, about 200km south-west of Harare, was untouched by the land crisis until Saturday, when a small group of unemployed people moved onto a part of the farm. Smith said they were not war veterans and the occupation was peaceful and not affecting farm operations.

"I've got a peaceful farm and there are no politics on my farm," said Smith, adding he did not believe the invasion was a result of his record as prime minister of white-ruled Rhodesia.

"They all love me. I've got more black friends in this country than Mugabe," he said.

The farm, which has about 1 000 head of cattle and 75 acres of orange trees, was not among the 841 farms earmarked by the government in 1997 for redistribution to landless blacks.

Smith said the land invasions were destroying the country, but he hoped that a land committee announced by Mugabe on Friday would bring peace to the countryside.

The committee is comprised of government, white farmers and war veterans.

"I think it's sad because it (the land crisis) is destroying our country. It's bringing our country into disrepute in the eyes of the whole world. - Reuters