Zimbabwean Minister of State Security Didymus Mutasa on Wednesday disavowed comments attributed to him by an online news service saying he would tell security forces including the army to "use guns" to put down opposition protests.
Web news site ZimOnline reported Tuesday that Mutasa said state security forces such as the army "will be instructed to use all resources at their disposal, including guns" to put down the mass protests and civil disobedience which Movement for Democratic Change founding president Morgan Tsvangirai is urging.
"We have shed blood before to achieve independence," he reportedly said. "So let no one be fooled that we will fold our arms while they cause mayhem and violence to remove democratically elected governments. They will pay and pay dearly."
Mutasa, whose portfolio includes oversight of the Central Intelligence Organization as well as food security at a time of widespread shortages, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he never told ZimOnline that deadly force would be used, charging that news media often fabricate.
Despite Mutasa’s disavowal of the comments, Tsvangirai said he takes very seriously the official warnings against protests which have come from officials all the way up to President Robert Mugabe, whose recent comments some took as a death threat.
Tsvangirai warned administration officials they could one day face the International Court of Justice in the Hague if they were to authorize violence against protesters, and that such actions could be considered crimes against humanity. He noted the recent arrest of former Liberian President Charles Taylor as a case in point.
Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu asked Tsvangirai what he made of the threats.
Political analyst Heneri Dzinotyiwei told Carole Gombakomba that warnings from top officials should be taken seriously, as the state must be concerned about the message which Tsvangirai and other opposition figures are sending.
Elsewhere, the head of the so-called pro-senate MDC faction, Arthur Mutambara, took some of the country’s civil society groups to task for alleged partisanship favoring the rival Tsvangirai opposition faction, singling out the National Constitutional Assembly among other organizations. Correspondent Irwin Chifera reported from Harare.