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Mugabe Warns of War if Opposition Wins Election

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is among dozens of African notables to call urgently for free and transparent elections in Zimbabwe. The June 27 runoff vote pits incumbent President Robert Mugabe against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, but according to Zimbabwe state media Mr. Mugabe is now warning of war to stop an opposition victory. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA from London.

Concerns about the upcoming presidential runoff have increased steadily amid growing reports of government-sponsored violence and massive intimidation and harrassment of voters and opposition supporters.

Now, the state-run daily, The Herald, reports that President Mugabe's is warning of war. The Herald quotes Mr. Mugabe as saying he will not let the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) take power. Mr. Mugabe reportedly said an opposition victory would be tantamount to giving the country back to its former colonial master. The president has repeatedly accused the MDC of being sponsored by Britain - an accusation both the opposition and Britain deny.

Mr. Mugabe said he dissuaded war veterans from "going back to war" after the March 29 general elections in which his ruling ZANU-PF party lost its parliamentary majority. Mr. Mugabe was second best to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential race. However, Tsvangirai did not win by the majority required to avoid a runoff.

Meanwhile 40 African civil society leaders including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former heads of state have called for the presidential runoff election to be conducted in a peaceful and transparent manner. The call was made in an open letter published Friday. It also calls for an "adequate number of independent electoral observers" both during and after the June poll.

One of the signatories of the letter is Sudanese born philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. He tells VOA that the letter was written to show that Africans are concerned about events in Zimbabwe.

"I think we have a serious problem there and we need the result to be a victory for democracy and freedom we need fair elections and moving forward in Africa," he said. "Civil society is fully aware now and fully engaged in the democratic process and we want a level playing field and more importantly we want after the fair election, whatever the result we really want Zimbabweans to come together and build a prosperous country, we need to move forward."

Ibrahim says he deplores the current reports of intimidation, harassment and violence. He called on the government to allow the opposition to campaign freely.

The letter also calls for end to the violence and intimidation, and the restoration of full access for humanitarian and aid agencies.

The Zimbabwean government suspended all field work by aid agencies earlier this month saying the charities were campaigning for the opposition. The aid groups deny the charge.

United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes added his voice to the denial.

"President Mugabe alleged in Rome that some NGOs were operating beyond their mandate and interfering in political affairs," said Holmes. "We absolutely deny that. We believe that the NGOs have been sticking absolutely to the fundamental humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality and independence, and have not been using food or their aid in political ways at all."

Holmes warned that if the ban on food distribution continues beyond the immediate pre-electoral runoff period, the consequences could be very serious. More than four million Zimbabweans depend on food aid due to a drought induced bad harvest.

In Zimbabwe, harassment of the opposition continues. MDC leader Tsvangirai was detained and released twice on Thursday. The party's secretary-general, Tendai Biti, was arrested and police say he will be charged with treason, which carries a death sentence in Zimbabwe.

The French news agency, AFP, reports that police impounded two MDC campaign buses used to ferry Tsvangirai and his entourage around the country on Friday. Last week, police seized Tsvangirai's bulletproof car. In both cases police say the vehicles were not properly registered. The MDC dismisses the allegation.