- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

An international human rights group has placed Zimbabwe on its "genocide watch" list, citing fears that a political crackdown by the government of President Robert Mugabe could degenerate into ethnically targeted violence by newly formed government militias.
The move is the latest sign of mounting international unease as Zimbabwe prepares for presidential elections March 9 and 10.
The ruling party of Mr. Mugabe, who has held power since the country achieved independence from Britain in 1982, faces a strong challenge from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Gregory H. Stanton, a former Foreign Service officer and president of the Washington-based Genocide Watch, said the group voted unanimously to issue the warning on Friday after the Zimbabwean parliament approved laws giving police and security forces broad new powers to control protests and making it illegal to "undermine the authority of the president."
"It's one of the most dangerous situations we are watching right now," said Mr. Stanton.
"We're not saying that a full-scale genocide or a wave of genocidal massacres is imminent," he added. "But we are trying to raise a yellow caution sign that a lot of the danger signals we've seen in past episodes are flashing now in Zimbabwe."
In the run-up to the election, Mr. Mugabe has come under intense foreign criticism for violence targeting MDC activists and a string of legislative proposals aimed at curbing dissent, muzzling the press and giving security forces broad new powers.
Government-organized militias, drawn almost entirely from Mr. Mugabe's Shona tribe, also have been working with so-called "veterans' groups" from the independence struggle in seizing prime land held by white Zimbabwean farmers.
Zimbabwe's Daily News reported yesterday that an MDC member of parliament from Lupane in the country's southwest was kidnapped, knifed and left for dead in an attack late Monday. MDC officials say about 90 of the party's workers have been killed recently.
Lorne Craner, the State Department's lead human rights official, arrived in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare yesterday for official talks on the coming elections.
At a summit of 14 African nations that ended Monday in Malawi, Mr. Mugabe promised to hold free and fair elections in March and allow foreign observers and journalists to cover the voting.
Genocide Watch's Friday alert is its lowest priority warning, and Mr. Stanton said in an interview yesterday he believed most of the violence to date was politically inspired, not a result of racial or tribal targeting.
But he said the alert was issued because several typical warning signs of targeted violence had been observed in Zimbabwe and past genocidal violence had occurred before the international community was able to act.
The creation of paramilitary militias, he noted, was used in Indonesia in ethnic assaults in East Timor and Aceh. Although such militias have close personnel and training ties to the military, they often are used to give the government "deniability" when the killings begin.
Other have been hesitant to apply the genocide label to Zimbabwe, arguing that the opposition has a significant Shona representation.
"The localized opposition that you saw in Zimbabwe in the 1980s has gone national. It has metastasized," said John Prendergast, co-director of the Africa Project for the International Crisis Group and author of a just-released survey of the Zimbabwean political crisis.

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