HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe plans to invoke special powers to seize white-owned farms and distribute the property to landless blacks, Zimbabwe's justice minister said Saturday.

The move was immediately denounced by white farmers, caught in a standoff with armed black squatters who have seized more than 1,000 white-owned farms since February demanding land redistribution.

"Within 10 days, the legal framework to take land and redistribute it to the people will be in place," Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa was quoted as saying by the national news agency Ziana.

At least 13 people have died in violence that has accompanied the occupations by the squatters, who claim to be led by veterans of Zimbabwe's independence war in 1980.

Despite a promise by the veterans' leader to put a stop to violence, at least 27 farm workers were attacked overnight and five more farms were occupied, said an official for the Commercial Farmers Union who asked not to be identified.

The head of the farmers' union immediately condemned Mugabe's plans.

"We feel that this is a lack of good faith on behalf of the government while we are trying to negotiate in good faith with the war veterans in an attempt to stop violence and prepare the situation for free and fair elections," said David Hasluck.

The opposition has accused Mugabe of organizing the occupations to increase his diminishing support among voters before parliamentary elections. No date has been announced for the vote.

Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler, has refused to provide $57 million earmarked for land reform until Mugabe holds free elections and halts the violence.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook condemned Saturday's announcement as "a big step backwards."

"There can be no justification for this," Cook said in a statement in London. "This cannot be the way to solve the genuine problems of land reform."

Mugabe's government has insisted the farm occupations are a legitimate protest against a colonial legacy that left one-third of the productive farmland in the hands of 4,000 white farmers.