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Rights Group Accuses Zimbabwe Army of Political Terror Campaign

Human Rights Watch says the Zimbabwe army is backing a campaign of terror against opponents of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF Party. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg the rights organization says it would be impossible to stage a credible second round in the presidential election in the present climate of fear and violence.

Human Rights Watch says President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF has embarked on a systematic and well-targeted campaign of violence against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and anyone suspected of voting for the party in last month's elections.

Human Rights Watch researcher Tiseke Kasambala says the campaign is being orchestrated and backed by the Zimbabwe army.

"Like I said, senior military officials have been implicated in these acts of violence," she said. "Eyewitnesses and victims have mentioned names to us of key army officials who have been seen working and moving around and carrying out raids on MDC homes together with war veterans and ZANU-PF and actually directing their activities."

Kasambala adds that in addition to direct involvement in the violence, the army has been handing out weapons and army trucks to so-called war veterans and the ZANU-PF Youth militia.

The Human Rights Watch researcher notes that most of the violence is occurring in areas that have traditionally supported Mr. Mugabe and his party, but where results have shown they fared badly in the parliamentary election.

The areas are rural and Kasambala says they have been cut off from the outside world by police and army roadblocks and she fears a humanitarian crisis is unfolding, in secret.

"Our concern, like I highlighted earlier, is the fact that the humanitarian [organizations] cannot get to some of these places," she added. "Like Mashonaland East Province, which ... is the worst hit in terms of violence, and the one which is totally inaccessible, even to humanitarian agencies. We have also heard that in Mashonaland West there is a crisis there, and the humanitarians have not been allowed access."

The government has accused the media of manufacturing reports of unrest by recycling footage from violence in 2002, and says that if there is any violence it comes from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Zimbabwe police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri said in a statement that claims of human rights violations by the Movement for Democratic Change, when it is guilty of violence, will not work this time around.

But Human Rights Watch says that while they have documented two cases of violence perpetrated by MDC supporters, they were spontaneous acts carried out in revenge for attacks perpetrated by the ruling party.

While the outcome of the March elections for parliament and local councils is known, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has yet to release the tally in the presidential race. More than four weeks on, the commission says, it will in the coming days, embark on a verification process of this election with representatives of the presidential candidates.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has claimed victory in the presidential race, but ZANU-PF says there was no clear winner and there will have to be a runoff.

Researcher Kasambala notes that in the present climate of "terror and intimidation," it will not be possible to hold a credible runoff election.

"We are also seriously concerned about a second round of elections," she said. "We believe that such a second round of elections will not be credible so long as the types of violence that we are seeing continue to take place."

Human Rights Watch has called for the United Nations and the African Union to insist that a second round of elections should not take place in the current environment.