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Rights Group: Zimbabwe Violence Escalating at 'Alarming Rate' - 2002-02-06

A human rights organization in Zimbabwe says political violence is increasing at "an alarming rate" before presidential elections scheduled for next month. The Human Rights Forum says 16 political activists were murdered in January.

The 11-member Human Rights Forum expressed "grave concern" over the escalating rate of violence in Zimbabwe, almost all of which it blamed on the government and the ruling ZANU-PF party.

The January killings bring the number of people known to have died in political violence to at least 60 in the past year and more than 100 in the past 20 months.

In addition to the 16 killings in January, the Human Rights Forum says there were also 35 kidnappings, 18 disappearances and 142 cases of torture. The forum adds that these figures show there is no basis to suggestions that political violence may be on the decline in Zimbabwe.

In the past 20 months, almost 300 people are listed as having disappeared. A number of these are thought to have gone into hiding after being tortured and released.

The government has made no direct comment on the report. But state media have repeatedly blamed most of Zimbabwe's violence on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whose leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is challenging President Robert Mugabe at the polls on March 9-10.

The MDC says that another of its activists died Tuesday after being attacked by ruling party militants a week ago. Independent newspapers report more attacks on opposition supporters, their homes and offices.

Meanwhile, the European Union mission in Harare, the Zimbabwe capital, says at least 30 EU election observers are expected to be in the country within the next week. Alex Cremer, deputy head of the EU mission in Harare, says 120 more EU observers will arrive in the country a few days before the presidential elections.

The European Union has threatened targeted sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and senior advisers if the campaign and elections are not free and fair.