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US, Other Envoys In Zimbabwe Visit Victims Of Political Violence, Urge Halt To Attacks

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee, in company with envoys from Angola, Britain, Spain and Sweden, on Friday visited victims of political violence under medical care at a Harare hospital, expressing outrage at the brutality of the post-election assaults and killings and imploring those responsible for them to stop.

A group of Zimbabwean physicians meanwhile issued a report saying that its members have treated more than 900 victims of beatings and other assaults since the country's March 29 presidential and general elections. The victims have mainly been members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which claimed a majority in the lower house of parliament, and a number of them have told VOA that they were attacked by youth militia and war veterans affiliated with the ruling ZANU-PF.

The violence is also seen as aimed at intimidating opposition supporters ahead of the presidential run-off election called - but not scheduled - by electoral authorities in which President Robert Mugabe is to face opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The MDC says more than 30 of its supporters have been killed in the attacks. Human Rights Watch and other groups say the violence is state-sponsored and has involved the Zimbabwean military both directly and through provision of arms and transport.

"The violence in Zimbabwe has to stop," McGee told reporters after touring wards of the Avenues Clinic where about 20 victims of political violence were under treatment for injuries. "Whoever is perpetrating this violence, please, stop this now," he said.

"What I've seen is just absolute brutality," McGee said."When I see an 80-plus-year-old woman, a grandmother who is just beaten senseless for no reason other than that her children were MDC activists, it makes no sense to me whatsoever."

British Ambassador Andrew Pocock expressed horror at the effects of the violence, saying it was clear its perpetrators intend to see Mr. Mugabe remains in power.

Correspondent Sylvia Manika of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said the violence and torture have escalated sharply in recent weeks, and that the perpetrators have displayed new levels brutality and callousness even towards children, women and the elderly.

Sources told VOA that in a number of cases the Central Intelligence Organization, a secret police branch attached to the office of President Robert Mugabe, has seized X-rays and medical reports from state hospitals to suppress evidence of assaults.

Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights Chairman Douglas Gwatidzo told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that the violence has become intense and unrestrained.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project issued a report saying it had documented 4,331 cases of political violence in April, including 10 murders. It said the human rights violations in April shattered the record set in 2005 during the government's infamous Operation Murambatsvina, in which forced evictions and demolitions by security forces left hundreds of thousands of people homeless

The group detailed violence in provinces north and east of Harare, where soldiers, war veterans and youth militia have set up camps from which to attack opposition members in communities where there was a vote swing to the MDC in the March elections. But it said violence was now "creeping into" Matabeleland in the country's west.

The Peace Project called on the government to put a stop to the violence, and issued a challenge to police to “bring sanity” to the disturbed areas.

A Zimbabwean army spokesman on Thursday denied allegations that the military was supporting and participating in the violence. Major Alphios Makotore said the military "categorically distances itself and any of its members from such activities." But an opposition spokesman said the army's role has been well documented.

Deputy Water Resources Minister Walter Mzembi, who has been accused of directing violence in Masvingo Province, told VOA he is being framed by the opposition.

Some opposition members have begun fighting back against attackers. In Mhangura, Mashonaland West, opposition activists reportedly defended themselves against an attack by ZANU-PF youth militia. In Shamva, Mashonaland Central, sources said MDC supporters took the offensive after their homes in the mining town were destroyed.

Mhangura resident Bernadette Dhakwa told VOA reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that riot police were deployed when it appeared that the youth militia were losing ground.

In Masvingo Province, sources said villagers in Zaka West were tortured at camps set up at the Veza and Mageza business centers, and were being obliged by the militia to pay fines in cash, goats and cattle for backing the opposition.

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