Police in Swaziland say they have arrested 12 people in connection with a series of firebomb attacks. They say the suspects are members of the banned People's United Democratic Front, PUDEMO -- a pro-democracy opposition group that is a vocal critic of absolute monarch King Mswati.
The suspects are accused of setting off blasts that targeted courthouses, police, and government officials. Charges range from malicious property damage to attempted murder.
Swaziland has experienced rising political tensions, with critics accusing King Mswati of failing to deal with rampant poverty.
PUDEMO has criticized a new constitution that takes effect in January, saying it benefits the king and his court at the expense of Swaziland's poor majority.
Musa Hlophe is the coordinator of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations in the capital Mbabane. He told Voice of America reporter William Eagle he’s concerned about police treatment of the detainees. Mr. Hlophe says the government has failed to investigate allegations of police abuse.
A PUDEMO official told VOA it does not use force as a means of bringing change –although it would use force to defend itself against attack. The press has quoted the president of PUDEMO, Mario Musuku, as saying bombings have shown the public wants democratic reforms, and they would likely continue as long as the government refuses to negotiate with opponents. The government has said that PUDEMO leaflets were found near the site of at least one attack on a courthouse.
But Musa Hlophe says he does not think PUDEMO is involved. He says it would be counterproductive to efforts by the group to run in elections scheduled for 2008. On the other hand, he says allies of the government might use firebombings as a way to discredit PUDEMO – which he says has gained recognition among pro-democracy groups in southern Africa.