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Zimbabwe Activists Say Thousands Beaten, Tortured

Political and human rights activists in Zimbabwe say thousands of people have been beaten and tortured this past week. The surge in violence comes a week after President Robert Mugabe promised a meeting of southern African heads of state that violence would cease.

In comments made Friday, a senior official with one of Zimbabwe's main human rights monitors, Zimrights, reported a big increase in violence throughout the country. He attributed much of the violence to supporters of the Mugabe government.

Reports in independent newspapers say that youth militia loyal to the Mugabe government have set up roadblocks outside many towns. Buses are being searched, and passengers suspected of supporting the opposition are being kidnapped and beaten.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says dozens of suspected opposition supporters have been kidnapped, and their whereabouts are unknown. The MDC, whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai is challenging Mr. Mugabe in the presidential elections in March, says ruling party militia have sealed off a number of outlying towns, and are forcing residents to attend night-long political indoctrination sessions. An MDC member of parliament has been hospitalized in critical condition, after being slashed in the stomach by a group of militia earlier in the week.

The government has made no direct comment about any of these incidents, but officials quoted by the state media have denied that youth militia are engaging in violence. Police acknowledge that violent acts have taken place, but they say it is difficult to find out the identity of those responsible.

The ruling ZANU PF Party, in turn, has accused the opposition of fire-bombing the home of a government supporter. The opposition denies any role in the attack.

In the past two weeks, at least 20 white commercial farmers have fled their properties, following invasions by militant mobs loyal to Mr. Mugabe. The Commercial Farmers Union says the mobs have destroyed homesteads and stolen machinery and vehicles.

Since invasions of commercial farms began 18 months ago, more than 5,000 workers have been beaten up or tortured. Human rights agencies say 70,000 workers have been forced to flee, and are now internal refugees in Zimbabwe.