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Rights Groups Doubt Zimbabwe Elections Will Be Fair

An international human rights group says the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe are not likely to be fair because of human rights abuses and flaws in electoral procedures. The Human Rights Watch group made the assessment in Johannesburg, from where VOA's Scott Bobb reports.

The southern Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, Tiseke Kasambala, says that despite a reduction in the level of violence seen in previous elections, campaign conditions in Zimbabwe have not improved enough for a fair vote.

"The conditions on the ground in terms of the electoral conditions and the buildup to the elections have been so flawed that we have documented numerous human rights abuses that preclude the possibility of holding free and fair elections in the country on March 29," she said.

Kasambala said her organization had documented cases showing the Zimbabwean government and ruling ZANU-PF party have intimidated the opposition, restricted its gatherings, and used distributions of food and farming equipment to gain political advantage.

The organization is the latest to join Zimbabwean opposition leaders, civic groups and human rights organizations in criticizing the process.

But Zimbabwe's ambassador to South Africa, Simon Khaya Moyo, rejected the allegations in an interview with South Africa national radio.

"There is so much peace that all political parties are campaigning freely throughout the country to the chagrin, of course, of our detractors led by London and Washington who would have wished chaos and mayhem prior to the polling day on March 29, 2008," he said.

Britain, the United States and the European Union have expressed concern that the elections would not be fair. Their election observers have been rejected by Harare, which says they have already made up their minds.

Zimbabweans are due to go to the polls March 29 to elect a president, national assembly, senate and local councils.

President Robert Mugabe is seeking a sixth term and victory for his ZANU-PF party, which has dominated politics since independence 28 years ago. He is being opposed by his former finance minister and ally Simba Makoni and by veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Pro-democracy groups and the opposition note that Zimbabweans are voting for the first time in four distinct elections with four separate ballot papers. They say voter registration lists are flawed and difficult to check for inaccuracies. And they complain that newly demarcated voting districts will make it difficult for some voters to find their polling stations.

They conclude that there has not been enough time to educate voters on these and other changes. The government rejects the charge.