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With Southern African Summit Over, Crackdown Resumes In Zimbabwe

Police in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo arrested six members of the activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise early Friday, but freed them late in the evening after allegedly threatening them with death if they did not cease protest activities.

WOZA National Coordinator Jenni Williams said police officers took the women to the Khami ruins about 40 kilometers outside the Matabeleland Province capital, and told them they would be thrown into a reservoir there if they did not quit the group.

WOZA sources said Maria Moyo, Rosemary Siziba, Aida Ndebele, Margaret Ndlovu and two others were taken from their homes by police around dawn. The group said police also tried to break into the home of Magodonga Mahlangu, a WOZA official in Bulawayo, but having failed to gain entry, then seized her dog.

In Masvingo, capital of the province of the same name, police were said to have raided the homes of two WOZA members Thursday night seeking documents.

Williams said the six Bulawayo women were traumatized by the ordeal, particularly Maria Moyo who is ill, while another had a one-year-old infant with her.

She said the police officers released the women after some white journalists visiting the Khami resort area approached them.

Williams told reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that she suspects that the motive behind the raids raids is that police learned her organization held an annual congress earlier this month in secret, avoiding official scrutiny.

Elsewhere, political and civic activists say that in the wake of the Southern African Development Community summit last week, the government has resumed cracking down on its opposition among political parties and civil society groups.

On the weekend immediately following the summit, some 15 clerics and opposition members were arrested while conducting a prayer meeting in Chitungwiza, a satellite city south of Harare. A few days later, police arrested two American women who were filming a documentary about rape in Zimbabwe, deporting them to South Africa.

On Thursday, sources said, plainclothes police officers attempted to arrest organizers of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the Zimbabwe National Students Union as they spoke at a public meeting in Gwanda, but the two managed to escape.

Also Thursday, agents of the Joint Operations Command, a coordinating mechanism for the country's police, military and security agencies, interrogated officials of the Bulawayo Agenda, threatening them with arrest if anyone in a meeting they have called for Saturday, Aug. 25, mentions President Robert Mugabe's name.

Then on Friday police in Bulawayo seized WOZA members from their homes.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Programs Manager Pedzisai Ruhanya tells reporter Patience Rusere he thinks the crackdown is meant to bolster Mr. Mugabe’s reputation as a resolute figure who does not care about public or international opinion.

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