Mass grave in Zimbabwe fuels political propaganda

Mugabe backers claim former colonial rulers responsible

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CHIBONDO, Zimbabwe

Hundreds of skeletons found in a remote mine shaft have brought a macabre thrust to election campaigning in Zimbabwe. But the presence of some corpses still with skin, hair and body fluids has raised doubts over claims that white colonial-era troops committed the massacres more than 30 years ago.

Pathologists say visual evidence may point to more recent killings in a nation plagued by election violence and politically motivated murders.

Since President Robert Mugabe called for elections later this year to end a troubled two-year power-sharing coalition with the former opposition, his party and state media have mounted an intense campaign to discredit political rivals and Western critics of his authoritarian rule.

The Fallen Heroes of Zimbabwe Trust, a previously little known group of Mugabe party loyalists, launched a program in February to exhume skeletons in the mine shaft in northeastern Zimbabwe, saying the country’s former rulers were guilty of human rights violations that far outweigh any accusations of rights abuses leveled against Mr. Mugabe's party and his police and military.

Zimbabwe’s sole broadcaster, in news bulletins and repeated interruptions to regular programs, has urged ordinary citizens to visit the disused Chibondo gold mine near the provincial center of Mount Darwin, 110 miles from Harare, to witness the horror of colonial atrocities.

Reporters taken to Monkey William Mine at Chibondo on a trip organized by Mr. Mugabe’s Ministry of Information said school children were bused there.

Militants sang revolutionary songs, shouted slogans and denounced whites and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s pro-Western party for its links with Britain, the former colonial power.

“Down with whites. Not even one white man should remain in the country,” villagers, evidently carefully choreographed, proclaimed. They danced at the site in what was said to be an ancient ritual to appease the spirits of those killed by white troops before independence in 1980.

Villagers appeared to go into trances, and others wept and simulated firing guns.

Exhumed skeletons, bones and remains lay in random heaps, some covered by sheets and blankets, near a pile of coffins. Hair and clothes were clearly visible; one corpse wore black tennis shoes. The mine shaft emitted an overwhelming stench.

Journalists who descended a 130-foot shaft found a body with what appeared to be blood and fluids dripping onto the skulls below.

Jimmy Motsi, a leader of the trust group, told reporters the remains of more than 640 bodies already have been removed. Four other mine shafts in the district contain human remains, he said.

The Mount Darwin district saw some of the fiercest fighting in the seven-year bush war waged by Mr. Mugabe’s guerrillas that ended white rule and swept him to power.

Former colonial soldiers say guerrilla dead were disposed of in mass graves often doused with gasoline or acid.

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