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Charges Against Alleged Zimbabwe Opposition Plotters Dropped

A court in Zimbabwe has freed all opposition Movement for Democratic Change members arrested last week in connection with the alleged discovery of an arms cache. They had been charged with plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe and conspiring to possess weaponry for insurgency, sabotage and terrorism.

The state withdrew the charges Wednesday and released the three MDC members who were being held in police custody in the eastern border city of Mutare. MDC secretary for defense Giles Mutsekwa is among those released. The party's treasurer for Manicaland province, Brian James, also arrested last week, was released Sunday without being charged.

The lawyer for the three, Trust Manda, told VOA that the charges against the men were withdrawn because of a lack of evidence. He also said the statements implicating the men had been obtained by coercion and subterfuge.

The charges stem from the alleged discovery of an arms cache containing an assortment of weapons, flares, tear smoke, and communications equipment at the home of Peter Hitschmann, who is said to be a former member of the colonial Rhodesian armed forces. Hitschmann and his alleged co-conspirators were said to be working with the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement, an obscure organization which the government says had threatened to oust Mr. Mugabe by force if he did not step down. Manda said he was not aware of the fate of Hitschmann and three alleged accomplices of his who were also in detention.

MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa had earlier denied any MDC connection to the alleged weapons find and plot to remove Mugabe's regime by force, saying the incident was part of the maneuvers by the government to sabotage the upcoming party's congress slated for this weekend.

Before Wednesday's court decision, the police were also reported to be looking for Roy Bennett, a former MDC Member of Parliament, in connection with the case. The state controlled daily newspaper,The Herald, speculated Wednesday that Bennett had escaped to South Africa.

Chamisa refused to say where Bennett is but told VOA that the former legislator is very safe and the party expects him to attend its congress.