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Zimbabwe Herald: Top Army General Urges Soldiers to Back Mugabe

A senior military officer in Zimbabwe is quoted as calling on the country's troops to vote for President Robert Mugabe in the upcoming presidential runoff election against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. With voting due to take place in less than four weeks (June 27), violence is continuing and tensions are rising. The U.N. children's fund says the situation in Zimbabwe has displaced up to 10,000 children. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA, a prominent member of the opposition party says his family was beaten.

The state controlled daily,The Herald, quoted the army chief of staff, Major General Martin Chedondo, as saying that all soldiers should vote for President Mugabe or quit the army.

The paper quotes him as saying, "Soldiers are not apolitical. We have signed and agreed to fight and protect the ruling party's principles of defending the revolution."

He claimed that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was attacking supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party. The Movement for Democratic Change says 50 of its supporters have been killed and thousands more beaten since the first round of voting March 29, and that the attackers have often been in uniform. Human rights groups blame the government for the violence, which the government denies.

A spokesman and leading member of the opposition party, Nelson Chamisa, said Saturday his family and other members of his village in rural Zimbabwe were severely beaten. Chamisa himself was one of more than 30 top MDC officials who were detained in early 2007 and severely injured while in police custody. Days after his release from hospital, he was severely beaten outside Harare International Airport and hospitalized again.

Calls to police for comment were not answered.

Much of the violence has been in rural areas, and residents living near Zimbabwe's sugar estates in Chiredzi, in southeastern Zimbabwe, said they were attacked by armed men.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said this week that it estimates 10,000 children have been displaced by political violence in Zimbabwe. It says many aid agencies report restricting aid to children, due to the general uncertainty and what UNICEF describes in a statement as "threats" or "requests to do so by authorities."

The MDC won a parliamentary majority in the March elections, and party leader Morgan Tsvangirai won more votes than President Mugabe, but not the majority needed for an outright victory, meaning a second round of voting was required.

Zimbabwe's Election Commission announced Friday that all domestic observers have to be re-accredited for the second round voting. The independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network said many of its 9,400 observers live too far from the major cities of Harare and Bulawayo to get accredited before the June 27 poll.

There are expected to be about 300 foreign observers for more than nine-thousand polling stations.