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Zimbabwe Continues Crackdown on Opposition - 2003-04-10

The Zimbabwe government is pursuing a promised campaign of harsh treatment for senior members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. By Thursday, three members of parliament were being held in police cells, and several more said they were expecting to be detained in the next few days.

The three opposition members of parliament were arrested on suspicion of various charges, according to the police. A fourth member of parliament was released Monday after 10 days in police cells.

One prominent member of parliament, opposition spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi, was planning to demand in the High Court that he be formally charged or released. The two others were arrested outside the second city, Bulawayo, on Wednesday, and have not yet been charged.

In addition, at least three opposition district councilors in the Harare area have been attacked this week, and had their property trashed, allegedly by supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

The opposition says many other incidents are happening every day and are not fully reported.

Of the six members of the opposition's national executive committee, four have had to surrender their travel documents in connection with outstanding charges. A fifth will almost certainly have to surrender his before he is released on bail, perhaps this week.

Last week, the deputy opposition leader, Gibson Sibanda, was detained for several days, and had to surrender his travel documents as a condition of his release. He is charged with violating the constitution by helping to organize a general strike, and could face stiff penalties if he is convicted. The opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai is already on trial for treason.

The chief political reporter of Zimbabwe's independent weekly The Financial Gazette wrote Thursday that the ruling party is determined to rout the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

After last month's strike, President Robert Mugabe called the opposition a terrorist organization, and ordered his security services to react promptly and with vigor.

The regional trading group, the Southern African Development Community, pledged last week to send a task force to Harare to investigate human rights abuses. The task force is to be headed by a representative from Angola.

Political analysts welcomed the announcement by SADC, but now say that brief moment of optimism has been dimmed by the increased crackdown on members of the opposition, and the fact that the task force has not yet arrived.

The Angolan embassy in Harare had no information Thursday about the task force's schedule. The opposition said it has heard the group might arrive next week.

Meanwhile, the opposition said late Wednesday that it would announce a further round of mass action within two weeks. The two-day national strike last month paralyzed commerce and industry, and police say they are rounding up all those suspected of inciting the strike, or causing the relatively small amount of violence which accompanied it.