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Zimbabwe Plan Draws Criticism - 2002-07-03

Zimbabwe's government says it plans to set up a program of compulsory national service for young people. The proposal has prompted an outcry from government critics.

Zimbabwe's government says it wants to require all young people to do six months of national service before they are allowed to begin college or other further education.

The government has not said what kind of work would be involved in the national service. But it said it wants the program to begin next year to make Zimbabwe's young people more patriotic and to halt the flow of educated people out of the country.

The government said students already enrolled in college will not get their final certificates until they have completed national service. It said this will stop taxpayers' money being wasted on graduates who leave Zimbabwe for other countries after completing their university education.

But several private groups voiced strong opposition to the national service plan. And the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, charged that the proposal is just an excuse for the ruling ZANU-PF party to create terror gangs.

Much of the criticism stems from the controversial deployment of a youth militia before Zimbabwe's presidential election in March. Several thousand young people were recruited into the militia.

Some of them, who have now been dropped from the government payroll, said later that their training was chiefly political. They said they were taught that their loyalty was to the ruling party only, not to Zimbabwe society as a whole. They also received basic military training.

The non-governmental group, Human Rights Forum, said the youth militia was responsible for much of the political violence that marred the periods both before and after Zimbabwe's presidential election.