- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

JOHANNESBURG | An escapee from Zimbabwe’s prisons says his participation in an anti-U.S. propaganda video was coerced with torture, and that the practice is used against other opponents of President Robert Mugabe.

With video cameras rolling, Bothwell Pasipamire, a town councilor from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said he was forced to say that he trained as a guerrilla to battle Mr. Mugabe’s government in a program funded by the U.S. and British ambassadors to Zimbabwe.

“I was driven to a torture camp 20 miles east of the capital,” Mr. Pasipamire said Tuesday. “There, I was stripped, beaten and subjected to electric shocks until I agreed to take part in a series of propaganda films being made by the secret police.”

Mr. Pasipamire also said he and other prisoners at the camp were made to act out the beating of a uniformed soldier. “We pretended to beat him and he pretended to scream and fall down and that was captured on video.”

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee told The Washington Times by telephone from Harare that Mr. Mugabe’s “monstrous” administration is using the United States to “scapegoat” its failures.

“My heart goes out to any person who has been tortured,” Mr. McGee said. “This incident only adds to the monstrous deeds of a regime that persecutes the political opposition and members of civil society who seek a democratic transition, and resorts to using the U.S. and others as a scapegoat.”

In the past six weeks, the MDC says that up to 70 of its members have been kidnapped by police loyal to Mr. Mugabe.

In Harare, the Zimbabwe government has acknowledged detaining members of the opposition, but claims to have done so to protect the nation from “further acts of treason.”

The government also has denied torturing or any ill-treatment of detainees.

Zimbabwe is suffering a humanitarian crisis, hyper-inflation, an economic collapse with half its people facing imminent starvation and a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people, U.N. agencies say.

Mr. Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) refuses to cede power to the opposition, despite a defeat in March 2008 elections.

“The Zimbabwe government is determined to show that the MDC is about to wage war against Mr. Mugabe from camps in neighboring Botswana,” Mr. Pasipamire told The Times on Tuesday. “And it seems they also want to implicate the United States and Britain in this.”

Mr. Pasipamire is the first kidnapped MDC activist known to have escaped. Three days ago, he crossed the border into South Africa. He said other kidnap victims also have been coerced into making similar confessions.

“They presented me with a written list of questions and answers and ordered me to say those things on camera,” he said.

The filmed confessions have yet to be broadcast by Zimbabwe’s state-controlled media.

Some examples of his “confessions” were:

cHe had been trained in terror tactics at a military camp in neighboring Botswana.

cAlong with nine other guerrillas, he blew up a rail line and killed soldiers of the Zimbabwe army.

cThe U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe was funding the camps along with help from the British government.

cMorgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, personally oversaw the projects.

cThousands of guerrillas were poised to invade Zimbabwe from Botswana.

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office, Russ Dixon, echoed Mr. McGee, saying the British government did not fund political parties or insurgencies.

He said it was London’s view that efforts to create such evidence through torture were “intended to divert attention from the political, economic and humanitarian crisis created by the Zimbabwe government’s own fundamental lack of legitimacy.”

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