- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwean army and police raided the headquarters of the main opposition party in the capital, Harare, yesterday and arrested more than 100 people, some of whom had taken shelter in the building after falling victim to purported government-sponsored violence.

The police, who later also raided the office of the main election-observer group, confiscated documents, computers and files that supported claims that President Robert Mugabe, 84, lost the March 29 presidential election.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the vote.

A partial recount of the parliamentary vote suggests Mr. Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front is unlikely to reverse the opposition’s victory, Reuters news agency reported.

Votes in 13 parliamentary races have been recounted so far. ZANU-PF must win nine of 10 remaining constituencies to take back control of parliament, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) count, the state-run Herald newspaper reported in its online version today.

One of the arrested activists who managed to escape from police custody said the security officers took away at least 120 people in police and army vehicles.

He spoke last night to The Washington Times but asked not to be identified for fear the army would carry out reprisals against his family.

“At around 10 a.m. … dozens of police and army trucks pulled up outside the MDC headquarters at Harvest House in Harare. They swarmed into the building, assaulting and handcuffing people as they went,” he said.

Many of those attacked were refugees from the rural areas where they had been tortured or beaten by Mr. Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, he added.

Among the injured who managed to escape with him, he said, were three women who claimed to have been raped, several men who had been burned with molten plastic and one woman whose left breast had been partially skinned with a razor blade.

Others with injuries had been dragged from the building, he added.

Pregnant women, mothers with babies strapped to their backs, girls who had been threatened with rape, and men with broken bones were among those herded into a bus and pickup truck, the Associated Press reported. The AP said about 300 people were arrested in the sweep.

A police spokesman, Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, said those arrested were suspected of “crimes committed in the countryside,” but denied any of them were victims of torture.

Later in the day, police also entered the office of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), an independent group that supports Mr. Tsvangirai’s assessment that he won the presidential election against Mr. Mugabe.

Nearly a month after the vote, the government has yet to release the results. Senior members of the ZEC, which conducted the election, are appointed by Mr. Mugabe.

Analysts say the raids are likely an effort by ZANU-PF to establish what hard evidence the MDC and ZESN may hold on the election results before the government releases its own account of the vote.

Meanwhile, opposition groups have warned that “a new Rwanda” may be brewing in Zimbabwe after the army reportedly supplied AK-47 assault rifles to Mugabe supporters.

Yesterday, members of the youth militia loyal to Mr. Mugabe and veterans of the 1970s civil war that brought him to power in 1980 were reported to have shot up to a dozen civilians suspected of supporting the MDC in the eastern town of Rusape, 50 miles from the Mozambican border.

A Chinese ship carrying weapons for Zimbabwe was prevented from offloading its cargo in the South African port of Durban last week. Yesterday, Angola said the ship had been allowed to dock at the Angolan port of Lobito, but only to unload cargo for Angola, the AP reported.

Veteran Zimbabwe journalist, Wilf Mbanga, now exiled in Britain, said last night that the situation on the ground “paints a bloodcurdling picture.”

“Army barracks across the country are issuing war veterans and former military police officers with weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles,” he said.

In response, he said, “MDC supporters have organized themselves into local defense units to fight back violence and intimidation by war veterans, military personnel and ZANU-PF militia.”

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer met yesterday with Mr. Tsvangirai in Pretoria, South Africa, shortly after the raid on his party’s offices. Ms. Frazer said Thursday that Washington believes Mr. Tsvangirai won the presidential election and that it is time for Mr. Mugabe to step down.

Mr. Tsvangirai said he was “happy and encouraged” by yesterday’s meeting.

Ms. Frazer said she has been keen to hear from Mr. Tsvangirai details of his recent meetings with African leaders on the Zimbabwe crisis, including the presidents of Botswana, Kenya, Zambia and Ghana.

“We assured the MDC that we would look at additional international action to address, and bring attention to, the evolving human rights and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe,” she said.

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