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Villagers forced to move for Madonna's new school

Malawi's government has sided with Madonna in a land dispute which pitted the pop star, who pumped millions into the impoverished southern African country and adopted two of its children, against a group of 200 villagers.

Residents were refusing to move from a plot of land near the capital, Lilongwe, where Madonna wants to build a $15m (€11m) school for girls.

The government, however, said it had originally planned to develop the plot, and only allowed the villagers to live there until a project was identified.

Lilongwe District Commissioner Charles Kalemba, accompanied by other government officials and representatives from Madonna's Raising Malawi charity, met with about 200 villagers and told them they would have to move. The villagers were offered other government land.

"[The] government allowed you to occupy this land because there was no project yet. But now that Madonna wants to build you a school you have to give way," Mr Kalemba told the villagers. "You are lucky that Madonna has compensated you."

Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, who will be principal of Madonna's school, said the singer paid the villagers more than 16 million kwacha (about US$115,000) to compensate them for their houses -- mostly mud-and-thatch structures -- and improvements such as gardens and trees.

Binson Chinkhota urged residents to move, saying the school would benefit their children.

But Amos Mkuyu said the $1,500 (€1,100) in compensation he received from Madonna for mango trees and three homes was not enough. He said his family had been living on his seven-acre (three-hectare) plot for three generations.

The villagers are bitter, he said, but "there is nothing much we can do because the government is using threats".