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Zimbabwe Opposition Says Official Crackdown Steps Up With Rural Violence

  • Netsai Mlilo

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change said Monday that despite a call on Saturday by party leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai for a halt to the allegedly state-sanctioned attacks on opposition members in rural areas, there has been no apparent slowing and official legal sanctions have stepped up.

Tsvangirai, head of the dominant MDC grouping and backed for president by the two MDC formations, demanded a halt to violence as one of the main conditions for his participation in the presidential run-off called by electoral authorities. No date has been set and officials have hinted that it could be delayed beyond late May.

Police in Bindura, Mashonaland Central Province, early Monday raided the homes of opposition members and arrested five, among them the unsuccessful Tsvangirai MDC candidate for Bindura North in March 29 elections, Peter Mabika. Police accused the five of arson at Dawmill Farm in the province in the night from Sunday to Monday.

Tsvangirai MDC formation sources said two members elected to parliament in March remained under arrest: Trevor Saruwaka of Mutasa Central constituency in Manicaland Province, and Heya Shoko of Bikita West, Masvingo.

Another Tsvangirai MDC parliamentarian-elect, Misheck Shoko of Chitungwiza South, Harare Province, was briefly detained on Wednesday, sources said.

Violence continued around the country. A source in Kadoma, Mashonaland West, said a restaurant belonging to former Kadoma mayor and unsuccessful ZANU-PF candidate Fani Phiri was burned down Sunday night by unknown parties.

A source in Mashonaland Central told VOA that air force commander Perence Shiri visited the town of Muzarabani on Sunday and urged ZANU-PF youth militia there to dismantle torture bases set up at the Chadereka and Hoya business centers. Shiri is said to have urged local police to arrest those perpetrating political violence.

The source said police Sunday exhumed six decomposing bodies from shallow graves in the area, and that six ZANU-PF youth militia members were picked up on Monday in connection with the murders of those whose bodies were recovered.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project said high-ranking ZANU-PF and government officials are funding and providing food to militia members terrorizing civilians. The group said it has mounted a campaign to "name and shame" those behind the violence.

National Director Jestina Mukoko told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that her organization has documented more than 4,000 cases of violence.

Mounting intimidation and threats of violence are driving opposition members in rural Matabeleland from their homes, and many have found refuge and solace from family and church workers in Bulawayo, as Netsai Mlilo reported from that city.

Elsewhere, a Harare magistrate denied bail to Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions President Lovemore Matombo and Secretary General Wellington Chibebe, held since last week on charges of making false statements and inciting the public to rebellion.

A magistrate ruled that in the “interest of justice” they should be held until their case is heard May 23. ZCTU lawyers filed an appeal with the Harare high court.

ZCTU Acting Secretary General Japhet Moyo told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that members across the country are being harassed because the government wants to immobilize them ahead of the presidential runoff ballot.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...