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Mugabe party's attacks imperil fair vote

Human Rights Watch cites violence against opposition supporters in the run-up to the presidential runoff.

June 10, 2008|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — Persistent violence by government agents and supporters is making it impossible for Zimbabwe to hold a fair presidential runoff election this month, according to a report released Monday by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The study, which included interviews with victims, details violence against opposition supporters across the country and the creation of "no-go zones" in rural areas to deny access to foreign journalists and human rights workers and prevent them from witnessing the abuses.

The report says Zimbabwe is suffering the worst election violence in its history, overwhelmingly perpetrated by the ruling ZANU-PF party against Movement for Democratic Change activists and supporters in the run-up to the June 27 vote.

"Time has nearly run out for Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to make the necessary political interventions to end the violence and ensure a free and fair vote," the report says, calling on regional powers to abandon mediation efforts with President Robert Mugabe and instead take strong action to stop the attacks.

"If current conditions are maintained, there is no possibility of a credible, free and fair poll," the report adds.

The report finds at least 2,000 documented cases of beatings or torture but concludes that, because many areas were inaccessible, the actual number is much higher.

The findings were released as Specialist Doctors in Zimbabwe, an independent medical group comprising surgeons, anesthetists, physicians and pediatricians, reported that about 2,900 victims of political violence had been treated in hospitals since the first round of elections March 29.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai received about 48% of the vote, according to official figures, compared with about 43% for Mugabe, making a runoff necessary. The opposition insists it won in the first round.

The Human Rights Watch report concludes that the violence is being orchestrated by the Joint Operations Command, the country's supreme military body, which includes the chiefs of police, prisons, defense and security forces.

It said ZANU-PF had set up hundreds of base camps for interrogating, beating and torturing MDC supporters and activists.

Zimbabwean military officers handed out a bullet to every villager called to compulsory political meetings in April, in a threat against their voting for the opposition, according to the report.

"Each villager would be given a bullet to hold in their hands, then a soldier would say, 'If you vote for the MDC in the presidential runoff election, you have seen the bullets, we have enough for each one of you, so beware,' " the report says.

A man being beaten to death by members of Mugabe's party was told he was being punished because he had let neighbors listen to his radio, tuned in to a Voice of America program that aired in Zimbabwe, according to the report.

"In one particularly horrifying incident, at least 12 suspected ZANU-PF supporters abducted, beat, tortured and murdered three MDC activists on May 7," the report says.

The bodies were found days later.

In a May 5 incident in Chiweshe, six men were beaten to death and 70 other people were tortured, including a 76-year-old woman thrashed in front of assembled villagers, according to the report.

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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