- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

JOHANNESBURG The Zimbabwean army is disillusioned with President Robert Mugabe and will not support his attempts to cling to power if he loses the forthcoming presidential election, according to a former guerrilla colleague.

Wilfred Mhanda, who now leads a war veterans' group that opposes Mr. Mugabe's rule, was close to Mr. Mugabe during the bush war that brought his Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) to power.

Mr. Mhanda's remarks in a recent interview came in sharp contrast to a recent claim by Vitalis Zvinavashe, Zimbabwe's chief of staff, who said the military would not recognize any leader who had not fought in the war.

The claim was designed to unsettle Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who did not participate in the 1970s war that brought Mr. Mugabe to power.

Mr. Mhanda was once one of the most trusted commanders of ZANU-PF's military wing and still has numerous contacts in the army. Many of the men he once fought alongside are now senior officers.

"People are extremely concerned about the direction things are going, in particular the economic situation the violence, the killings and the tarnishing of war veterans. No senior army leader is comfortable," he said.

Mr. Mhanda, interviewed in Johannesburg, said he was preparing to return to Zimbabwe, where he is the chairman of the War Liberators Platform a group that opposes Mr. Mugabe's policy of seizing white-owned farms.

The chief of staff and a few other elite officers have benefited hugely from Mr. Mugabe's patronage, but with those at the level of colonel and below, the support dwindles, according to Mr. Mhanda.

In the last parliamentary elections, held in 2000, a number of constituencies with large military garrisons voted against Mr. Mugabe.

Mr. Mhanda joined the guerrilla struggle against white rule in what was then Rhodesia at age 16.

He quickly rose through the ranks and was sent to China for military training. He met Mr. Mugabe in 1976, just after Mr. Mugabe was released from prison.

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