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Zimbabwe: MDC Official Charged with Treason - 2002-03-12

In Zimbabwe, a senior official in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been formally charged with treason. Welshman Ncube, secretary general of the MDC, has been released on bail.

Welshman Ncube, the second most senior official in the Movement for Democratic Change, was arrested Monday at Plumtree, on the border with Botswana, and held in police custody overnight.

The court in Harare was told Monday that the accusation stems from a video film which purports to show MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in Canada last year discussing plans to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

Mr. Ncube was released on $9,000 bail. Other bail conditions include a ban on Mr. Ncube travelling outside Zimbabwe and reporting to police once a week. The court turned down a government request for a higher bail amount.

If found guilty, news reports say Mr. Ncube could be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

Morgan Tsvangirai, who challenged Mr. Mugabe in presidential polls that ended Monday, has strongly denied plotting to kill Mr. Mugabe and says the video has been fabricated.

The government says that Mr. Ncube and Renson Gasela, the MDC specialist on agriculture, are part of the alleged assassination plot.

Speaking to journalists, Mr. Ncube said the charge is part of a continuing government campaign of harassment and intimidation against the opposition.

In the year leading up to the presidential polls, more than 100 MDC activists and supporters were killed and thousands injured.

Welshman Ncube was questioned by police 10 days ago about the video. His lawyer, Innocent Chagonda, said police had told him they were preparing to press treason charges.

The counting of votes in the presidential election is underway and results are expected Wednesday. Voting was to have ended late Sunday, but polling stations re-opened in Harare and a nearby town Monday after the High Court ordered an extra day because of long delays.