US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Page told reporters in Harare on Friday that Washington is concerned about the surge in political violence in Zimbabwe and what she termed “wanton intimidation” of the public by segments of state security aligned with President Robert Mugabe's long-ruling ZANU-PF party.
Addressing reporters at the American Embassy after several days in Harare, Page called on the government to stop an ongoing crackdown on political and civil society leaders perceived to be anti-Mugabe, holding ZANU-PF mainly responsible for the violence.
Her statements contradicted testimony delivered in Parliament on Thursday by Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri. He said violence was mainly being perpetrated by the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, citing official statistics as to arrests which the MDC said reflected police bias.
Page said Washington supports Zimbabwe’s transition to democracy, applauding the three parties in Harare's national unity government for their commitment through the Global Political Agreement to adopting a new constitution before holding elections.
She urged the parties to agree an election roadmap before such polls were held so that they would be credible. The country's 2008 presidential election was steeped in violence and Mr. Mugabe's uncontested run-off victory was widely condemned as illegitimate, leading to regional and African diplomacy that yielded the power-sharing deal.
In Washington, US Assistant Secretary of State Phillip J. Crowley issued a statement calling on Harare to stop arbitrary arrests of ZANU-PF opponents.
He urged the government to make sure some 45 activists detained on treason charges for discussing the democratic upheaval in the Mideast and North Africa among them former lawmaker and socialist leader Munyaradzi Gwisai, get medical attention.
Responding, ZANU-PF Chief Parliamentary Whip Joram Gumbo denied his party was responsible for the latest wave of political violence, telling VOA Studio 7 reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that US envoy Page was biased and ill-informed.
"We are disappointed with her statements because evidence presented by the police commissioner...says the violence is caused by the MDC," Gumbo said.
Former MDC member of Parliament Abednico Bhebhe said he did not expect ZANU-PF to heed the appeals to the Harare government by U.S. officials.
Meanwhile, authorities in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, arrested four members of the Mthwakazi Liberation Front on charges of treason. Jailed were Policy and Economic Secretary Paul Siwela, Secretary Joel Gazi, Deputy Information and Publicity Officer Ntombizodwa Moyo and Chairwoman Nonsikelelo Ncube.
Their lawyer, Matshobana Ncube, said they were being accused of conspiring to commit treason. Formed in January, the Mthwakazi Liberation Front advocates the secession of Matabeleland and portions of Midland province to form a new state.
Ncube told reporter Patience Rusere two of the arrested were released into his custody.
Elsewhere, police in Kadoma, Mashonaland West province, have told members of the Tsvangirai MDC that all meetings of the party have been banned. Police said they had received orders to halt an MDC meeting scheduled for Saturday.