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Zimbabwe Abductions Escalate


There have been more abductions of Zimbabwe's civil rights activists and leading figures of the Movement for Democratic Change party. A High Court judge has ordered police to find a leading human rights activist who was taken from her home at dawn, one week ago. Lawyers for the Movement for Democratic Change say they also are going to court Wednesday to demand that the party's director of security, Chris Dlamini, be produced - two weeks after he was kidnapped from his home.

Judge Ann-Marie Gorwa Tuesday, ordered police to produce the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina Mukoko.

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa's application was finally heard in the Harare High Court, after four days of trying to find a judge who would hear the case.

Police deny involvement in Mukoko disappearance

Mukoko was taken from her home, north of Harare, by about 15 plainclothes men.

The police told the court they did not take Mukoko but would try to find her.

Police have turned down an application by civil rights activists to march in Harare to protest against Mukoko's disappearance. Since that application was lodged, a close advisor to Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai's inner circle, Gande Mudzingwa, was driven off the road in an industrial suburb south of Harare. Unknown men pulled him from his vehicle and drove off with him.

Mr. Tsvangiari heads the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which has been in power sharing talks with the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe. The talks are deadlocked over the distribution of several important ministries.

MDC lawyer Alec Muchadahama said he was going to court Wednesday, to call on the state to produce Mr. Tsvangirai's director of security, Chris Dlamini, who was taken from his home nearly two weeks ago. The lawyer says he knows of 28 missing people.

Abductions appear to be politically motivated

At least three more people from the Zimbabwe Peace Project were also abducted from their Harare offices, in the past week. Following the March 29 elections, won by the MDC, several prominent MDC members were abducted from their homes or vehicles. Their bodies were later found dumped in the bush.

The secretary-general of a smaller faction of the MDC, Welshman Ncube, says ZANU-PF will increase its terror campaign during this period of political stalemate. He says violence and coercion were the only tools ZANU-PF knew how to use in political struggle.

Public health situation is critical

The United Nations Wednesday announced that death from Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic has surpassed 700 people. The United Nations Children's Fund says it is the rainy season in Zimbabwe and doctors fear new rains will trigger more cases.

Cholera is a waterborne disease that is easily prevented through clean water and sewage systems and easily treated with rehydration medicines. However, Zimbabwe has been unable to cope with the outbreak because of the collapse of many public health facilities, because of the country's economic crisis.

The city's water distribution and sewage systems have received little maintenance in the nearly 29 years of Zimbabwe's independence.

Because of a lack of public water supplies in many areas, people survive on shallow wells dug in their yards. Scientists say most of the cholera cases in Harare came from these informal wells.

Many could die of hunger

The U.S.-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network says, in a report released this week, that humanitarian agencies and the government have only imported one-third of the country's cereal needs by the end of last month. It says, unless imports are increased urgently, there will be an acute shortage of food nationwide in January.

The report says many urban people cannot afford to buy the staple food, corn meal, because it is sold in foreign currency. It predicts increased malnutrition among children under five years of age.

Foreign leaders call on President Mugabe to step down

Mr. Tsvangirai has warned of a humanitarian disaster unless Zimbabwe's political crisis is resolved and aid is increased. European leaders, President Bush and a group of 12 elder statesmen have called on Mr. Mugabe to step down in order to end the political paralysis.

The Zimbabwean president has rejected the calls and blames the crisis on Western sanctions.

The African Union this week rejected Western calls for Mr. Mugabe's ouster. It calls on Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Mugabe to form an inclusive government, based on the September political agreement signed by both of them, to tackle the humanitarian crisis.