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Madonna school uproots Malawi villagers

The south east African country’s government ruled against villagers in a land dispute, instead backing the singer, who has pumped millions into the impoverished nation and adopted two of its children. Families were refusing to leave a plot of land near the capital, Lilongwe, where the 51 year-old star’s Raising Malawi foundation wants to build a $15m (£10m) school for girls. The government has forced more than 200 people to move house to make way for the building. "The district commissioner for Lilongwe told the villagers to move off the land and make way for the construction of the academy because it was government land reserved for development projects," said an official from the commissioner's office.

Raising Malawi is building the school on a plot of government land, which had been used for farming, but the government reclaimed the land when the educational project came up. It worked out a deal whereby Raising Malawi would give about 200 villagers 16 million kwacha (about £76,000) by to compensate them for their houses, mostly built from mud and thatch, and to pay for improvements such as gardens and trees. There was no compensation paid for the land, because the government said the villagers did not own it. But some villagers claim they inherited the land and threatened to block the project - which aims educate more than 500 poor children.

On Sunday, Raising Malawi’s director, Philip Van Den Bosche said that the compensation deal had been for much more cash and had included mango trees for farming. He denied that representatives from the organisation had recently met villagers about the land issue and says others have tried to fire up the issue.''It was a done deal but, of course, whenever Madonna's name is involved, opportunism is involved,'' he said. ''The thought that Madonna would be going on this land to take something away or to hurt people or to bulldoze people out of their homes is ridiculous,” he told Associated Press news agency.''The school is built to build cultural pride, not to destroy it.''The group have been relocated to other villages. The school is set to open in 2012.Madonna has two adopted children from Malawi, Mercy, five, and David, four, as well as biological children, Lourdes, 13, and Rocco, nine.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children