updated 5/31/2006 9:42:00 PM ET 2006-06-01T01:42:00

Amnesty International on Wednesday released the first satellite images of the rubble of an informal settlement in Zimbabwe that had been home to 30,000 of the country's poorest people.

The London-based human rights group said the images of Porta Farm provided the best evidence to date of the devastating impact of the government's Operation Murambatsvina, or "Drive Out Trash," which has demolished many such settlements to force people back to the rural areas.

The United Nations estimates that 700,000 of Zimbabwe's poorest residents have lost their homes, their livelihoods, or both.

"These satellite images are irrefutable evidence — if further evidence is even needed — that the Zimbabwean government has obliterated entire communities, completely erased them from the map, as if they never existed," said Amnesty's Africa Program director Kolawole Olaniyan.

The organization commissioned the satellite images to demonstrate the complete destruction of Porta Farm, a large, informal settlement about 12 miles west of the capital of Harare that was established 16 years ago and had schools, a children's center and a mosque.

Where Porta Farm formerly stood, the images show a desolate landscape of rubble and trees.

Last June, Zimbabwean police officers destroyed the homes of Porta Farm residents as part of Operation Murambatsvina, forcing thousands to sleep outdoors in the middle of winter.

The Zimbabwean government, led by authoritarian President Robert Mugabe, embarked on the operation in May 2005, saying informal settlements were not desirable and residents should return to the rural areas.

The communities affected by the operation were among the poorest and most vulnerable in Zimbabwe. In several cases, such as Porta Farm, they had been the victims of previous forced evictions carried out by the authorities. They were given almost no notice before their homes were demolished and no alternative accommodations were provided.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980, with record inflation of more than 1,000 percent, the highest in the world. The collapse of the economy has been blamed largely on economic mismanagement, corruption and the often violent seizures of at least 5,000 white-owned commercial farms in the country, once a regional breadbasket.

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