Zimbabwe's minister of justice, Patrick Chinamasa, says the government will fight an attempt by a group of foreign-based Zimbabweans to get the courts to allow them to vote in next month's general elections.

Mr. Chinamasa dismissed a court appeal by a British-based group calling itself the Diaspora Vote Action Group as "frivolous and vexatious."  He said members of the group and other Zimbabweans who live outside the country were free to come back home and vote.

In the past, Mr. Chinamasa has said the country's constitution does not allow people to vote in constituencies other than where they are resident.

In a recent comment to the state controlled Herald daily newspaper, he said that even if the constitution allowed people abroad to vote, election officials could not travel to countries such as Britain and the United States, where there is a sizeable Zimbabwean presence, because members of the government are banned from entering these countries.

But the lawyer for the Diaspora Vote Action, Beatrice Mtetwa, said the ban imposed by some Western countries for alleged human rights abuses by the Zimbabwean government only applies to senior members of the ruling party. Also, she said, there are many Zimbabweans in countries where there is no travel ban on the country's senior officials.

"There are many Zimbabweans in South Africa; there is no sanctions list in South Africa barring any Zimbabwean from going there on any government business,? said Ms. Mtetwa.  ?In any event other countries in the region have had their nationals vote in Zimbabwe. So I clearly believe that Zimbabweans in Botswana, South Africa and in the region have absolutely no handicap whatsoever in voting if we use the minister's argument."

Zimbabwe has in the past few years experienced a mass exodus of its population because of its political and economic problems. Estimates put the number of Zimbabweans who have sought a better life elsewhere at as many as three and a half million out of a population of 12 million.

The government has been on an aggressive campaign to get Zimbabweans in the diaspora to send much needed foreign currency through official channels rather than using the parallel market. Those demanding the vote say if the government wants their money, it should also allow them to vote.

Analysts say the government is afraid that should foreign-based Zimbabweans be allowed to vote, they will tip the scales in favor of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

A date for the hearing of the court application by the Diaspora Vote Action Group is still to be set.