Zimbabwe’s Deputy Youth Minister Savior Kasukuwere, announced Monday, that Harare plans to expand the controversial National Youth Training Program.
The timing of the announcement, less than a year before the March 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections, has raised suspicion among many opposition as well as human rights advocates, who accuse the government of using the youth, also called "green bombers", as shock troops to harass, intimidate and torture the political opponents.
Members of the army, police, Central Intelligence Organization and War veterans have also been accused of clamping down on government critics.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by founding President Morgan Tsvangirai, had asked African Union Commission Chairman, Alpha Oumar Konare, and South African President Thabo Mbeki, to pressure Harare to end the ongoing crackdown on the opposition, which has intensified since March. Leaders of the Southern African Development Community mandated Mr. Mbeki to lead its efforts to mediate a dialogue between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition, to end the violence.
Harare has denied these allegations, saying the use of force is necessary to fight what it calls "domestic terrorism," and accused the opposition of setting off a spate of petrol bombings aimed at police stations and other civilian targets.
More than 30 opposition activists and officials from the Tsvangirai-led MDC faction led are in detention. But they deny the charge that they masterminded the petrol bombings.
The state-controlled Herald Newspaper quoted Kasukuwere defending the expansion of the youth program, saying the National Youth Service is a noble idea that helps youth to contribute positively to society. He added that the graduates of the youth centers have been highly commended by the army and the police.
“Just recently, the chief nursing officer (Mrs. Faith Chasokela) commended the National Youth Service Training saying that youths coming from our institution were well disciplined and that’s not all, as the police and army have also done the same," Kasukuwere said.
Kasukuwere told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that youth expansion has nothing to do with the 2008 elections.
Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga disputed Kasukuwere’s assertion and told reporter Blessing Zulu that the expansion of the youth program is set to escalate violence in the country ahead of the elections.