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One Released, Seven Still Held in Zimbabwe Arms Imbroglio

Following the weekend arraignment in Mutare, Zimbabwe, of a group of men accused of plotting the assassination of President Robert Mugabe, authorities have released a regional official of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change without charges.

Legal sources said MDC Manicaland Treasurer Brian James was released Sunday night. Reached at his home Monday, James declined to comment, saying he remains under a court gag order in what authorities say was an assassination conspiracy.

The exact number of those remaining in custody could not be determined, but at least seven men are still detained by police, including alleged ringleader Michael Peter Hitschmann, said to have served in the pre-liberation Rhodesian armed forces and to have worked closely with Mutare police in the more recent past.

Members of the political opposition still in police hands included Mutare North member of Parliament and MDC defense spokesman Giles Mutsekwa, Manicaland youth chairman Knowledge Nyamuka and activist Thando Sibanda. Three Mutare police officers were also being held, legal sources said.

The seven could be back in court on Wednesday to face charges under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act and possibly its Terrorism Act, the sources said.

One lawyer representing the accused, Tafadzwa Mugabe, said late Monday that he and other attorneys were still trying to negotiate bail release for their clients.

Sources close to the investigation say the state case is mainly based on statements by Hitschmann, who according to state media disclosed a plot to assassinate Mr. Mugabe on his way to a gala celebration in Mutare of his 82nd birthday last month. This could not be confirmed as Hitschmann not only remained in custody but according to legal sources has refused representation by legal counsel.

Reporter Patience Rusere asks Mutare lawyer Chris Ndlovhu for the latest in a murky case of alleged conspiracy that some consider to be politically motivated on the part of the Mugabe administration as a way to further weaken a divided opposition.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...