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Zimbabwe Arrests 23 Alleged Army Deserters

The Zimbabwe government says it has arrested 23 alleged army deserters who, it charges, had established links with the political opposition's underground military wing. The government said the deserters had stolen explosives from the army for planned attacks during Zimbabwe's national strike last month.

The government said the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has a secret military wing, and that it was supplied with explosives by a group of young people who the state press claims are deserters from the Zimbabwe national army.

One of the men was interviewed on state radio. He repeated claims made in government-controlled newspapers and said he was recruited by the opposition MDC.

One of the alleged plots involved a planned attempt to blow up fuel stations during the strike, to cause fear and dismay.

The government also accused the group of involvement with the opposition in what it describes as a campaign of violence during the national strike. Three buses were set afire and three small bombs exploded, causing slight damage.

The strike on March 18 and March 19, which affected commerce and industry across the country, was called by the opposition to protest government repression.

Only journalists working for the government-controlled media have had access to the alleged deserters, who have reportedly confessed to supplying the opposition with weapons.

Police said those responsible for injuring more than 250 opposition supporters following the strike and during two parliamentary by elections a week ago were not soldiers, as claimed by victims, but impostors dressed up in army uniforms. An army spokesman denied its members would attack civilians.

The Movement for Democratic Change described the government's latest charges as ridiculous and ludicrous.

The Zimbabwe government has accused white farmers, the British government, and journalists of inciting the strike. Since the opposition's formation nearly four years ago, there have been no public indications that it has established a military wing.