Human Rights Watch has accused the Zimbabwean military of being “responsible” for the political violence that has gripped the country’s rural areas since the elections, saying the army has supplied arms and trucks to marauding paramilitary groups.
The watchdog organization said members of the army have participated in attacks on suspected opposition supporters in rural communities in particular. A spokesman for the main opposition formation led by presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai said such attacks have claimed the lives of 20 supporters in the past month.
"Military forces are providing arms and trucks to so-called 'war veterans' who have been implicated in numerous acts of torture and other violence" against opposition members, Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued late Tuesday.
The group called on the African Union and the United Nations Security Council, which informally examined the Zimbabwe crisis this week, to intervene to protect those at risk of being attacked, and to pressure the Harare government to halt such attacks.
Involvement by soldiers in the politically inspired violence has been reported, but the Human Rights Watch statement represented the first categorical accusation that the Zimbabwe Defense Forces have materially contributed to the rural terror spree.
The governing ZANU-PF party has denied responsibility in the attacks, and has accused the MDC itself of fomenting rural violence.
"Sources told Human Rights Watch that the army had given the 'war veterans' guns and army trucks to carry out raids on the homes of known MDC supporters and members. Military officers are also directly involved in these raids," it said.
Human Rights Watch Southern African Spokeswoman Tiseke Kasambala said in an interview with VOA reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that the violence is systematic, and urged uniformed forces to refrain from committing human rights violations.
This week the death toll from the campaign of violence mounted. The dominant MDC formation led by presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai said 20 supporters have died from beatings and shootings since the March 29 elections. Spokesman Nelson Chamisa said that deaths in more remote areas may be going unreported.
In one case, sources said an Arda-Zimbabwe employee based in Muzarabani town in Mashonaland Central Province was said to have been dragged from his home and beaten to death by more than 10 assailants on Sunday evening.
Local sources said Wednesday that the body of Crispen Tayero was still being held at the St. Albert Mission Hospital mortuary.
A source in Nyika Growth Point in Masvingo told VOA that ZANU-PF militia and soldiers in civilian clothes rounded up suspected opposition supporters at the Duma Shopping Center there, taking them away to an undetermined location.
Reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with a friend of the slain Tayero, Tineyi Tembo, who said the victim left a wife and five children.
A resident of Chegutu, Mashonaland West, named Mukanya said rural residents were flocking into the town seeking refuge from violence.
Opposition officials in Gweru, Midlands Province, told correspondent Taurai Shava of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that an activist in Tongogara, Shurugwi district, died Monday after being assaulted by war veterans and ZANU-PF youth militia.
Elsewhere, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions demanded that ZANU-PF put a stop to violence which has displaced thousands from the rural areas. The union said the longtime ruling party is harassing the rural populace which bore the brunt of the liberation struggle and subjecting it to brutality reminiscent of colonial days.
A Harare High Court judge for a third time Wednesday put off a decision in a bail appeal concerning freelance journalist Frank Chikowore and six opposition activists facing charges of public violence in connection with the burning of a bus April 15 during a general strike that day, as Irwin Chifera reported from Harare.
Police Wednesday raided the Harare offices of international aid group ActionAid, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said. Police ActionAid Country Director Anne Chipembere and Senior Programs Officer Precious Shumba with three others, the group said.
It said plainclothes officers detained spokesman Fambai Ngirandai of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations but released him after questioning him about the group’s “Make Your Vote Count” campaign. They ordered him to stop criticizing President Robert Mugabe or he would be taken in for questioning again.