- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe

A Zimbabwean human rights activist missing for three weeks was taken to court Wednesday, and state media said she was accused in a plot to overthrow President Robert Mugabe.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu joined the growing international pressure on the longtime leader to give up power. Asked during a British Broadcasting Corp. interview whether Mr. Mugabe should be removed by force, Mr. Tutu said there should “certainly be the threat of it.”

Mr. Tutu, the retired archbishop of Cape Town, also said he is ashamed of South Africa’s handling of the Zimbabwe issue. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki mediated the power-sharing deal between Mr. Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and South Africa reiterated this week it saw the deal as the only way forward, despite new U.S. and British opposition to it.

“We have betrayed our legacy; how much more suffering is going to make us say, ‘No, we have given Mr. Mugabe enough time,’ ” Mr. Tutu told the BBC.

The court appearance Wednesday of Jestina Mukoko came days after Mr. Tsvangirai threatened to withdraw from talks on implementing the power-sharing deal unless at least 42 missing activists and opposition officials were released or charged.

Police had denied holding Ms. Mukoko, who had not been seen since being taken from her home Dec. 3, the day activists held nationwide protests against the country’s deepening economic and health crises.

Ms. Mukoko, a former TV news anchor and the respected head of a group known as the Zimbabwe Peace Project, and eight other activists were kept in custody after appearing briefly in Harare Magistrate Court and are expected to appear again Monday, said Andrew Makoni, a lawyer representing them.

The state-run Herald newspaper said Ms. Mukoko and the activists with Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would be charged with attempting to recruit fighters to overthrow Mr. Mugabe.

The Herald quoted police as saying the MDC was training fighters in Botswana. Zimbabwean officials have repeatedly made such accusations, which have been denied by Botswana and the MDC.

Annah Moyo, a Johannesburg-based Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, said the charges against Ms. Mukoko were “trumped up” and could be used by the Mugabe regime as an excuse to declare a state of emergency and withdraw from power-sharing talks.

The power-sharing deal, signed in September, calls for Mr. Mugabe to remain president and Mr. Tsvangirai to take the new post of prime minister. The agreement has stalled over a dispute about who would control key Cabinet posts - and over charges Mr. Mugabe has stepped up harassment of dissidents.

Shortly before Ms. Mukoko was brought to court Wednesday, human rights lawyers said they had been visiting police stations and checking arrest records, and had managed to locate 14 activists who had disappeared in recent weeks.

Mr. Mugabe, 84, has ruled the country since its 1980 independence from Britain. He refused to leave office after disputed elections in March.

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