Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri has warned the country's political parties against engaging in violence in the elections the government has said will be held in March despite opposition objections to the timing.
The state-controlled Herald newspaper on Wednesday quoted Chihuri as saying that the police will be on “high alert” and will come down hard on “unruly elements bent on causing disturbances” in the election period.
Chihuri obliquely referred to the post-election violence in Kenya that has claimed more than 500 lives. "It is disturbing to read about the huge number of lives being lost not only in Africa, but also in other countries around the world," the Herald quoted him as saying at a ceremony to send off 69 officers to United Nations peacekeeping duties.
"My message to Zimbabwe is that let's maintain peace at all costs despite the challenges we might have," Chihuri reportedly told his audience.
Sources said the police force has launched a recruitment drive aimed at more than doubling the force by adding some 32,000 officers before the elections.
But a police spokesman, Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka, disputed the figure while acknowledging the force typically bolsters its ranks ahead of an election.
Mandipaka told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Chihuri’s warning to the country's political parties was merely standard procedure to help ensure that the country holds peaceful elections.
Political commentator Farai Maguwu said Harare appeared to be taking precautions to avoid the kind of violence seen in Kenya after its contested presidential ballot.