HARARE, Zimbabwe -- A white political leader who masterminded the former colony of Rhodesia's break with Britain to head off black rule was shot to death by a group of unknown assailants, officials sources said Saturday.
Douglas 'Boss' Lilford, 77, was killed about midnight Friday at his farm near Harare. His attackers bound his hands with wire and beat him before shooting Lilford to death, the sources said.
The attackers, one of whom was wounded, escaped in Lilford's car, which was later found abandoned in the sprawling Chitungwiza black township on the outskirts of the capital.
Rita Purchase, wife of Lilford's racehorse trainer, said she and her husband dined with Lilford Friday night and leftabout 10:30 p.m. They were called back to the farm about midnight by Lilford's household staff, she said.
'The attackers tried to abduct one of the housemaids but she escaped while they were putting the wounded man in the car. She later telephoned us and the police,' Purchase said.
Always a controversial political figure during the Rhodesian colonial era, Lilford was the mastermind behind the formation of former Prime Minister Ian Amith's Rhodesian Front party in 1962.
Lilford headed a group of ultra-right white politicians who founded the RF, which won a election in December 1962 and remained in power for 17 years.
As leader of the party's right wing, Lilford pressured the Smith government to make a unilateral declaration of independence from Britain in 1965 to head off black majority rule.
Rhodesia became the independent black-ruled nation of Zimbabwe in April 1980.
In a telephone interview from his farm in southern Zimbabwe, Smith expressed shock at the murder.
'He was my closest and greatest friend, and I am horrfied by his tragic murder,' Smith said. 'He was a wonderful man with strong principles and who was prepared to stand by them. In fact, Mr. Lilford was prepared to die for those principles, but I hope that is not the reason he did die.'
Smith said it was too early to say whether the murder was politically motivated.
The slaying came amid strong government attacks on Smith and his party, which is now called the Conservative Alliance. The attacks were prompted by Smith's reported criticism of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe during recent visits to Britain and the United States.
Smith's statements sparked repeated calls for his arrest and the banning of the CA. Several government leaders and ruling party members maintain his statements amounted to treason.