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Zimbabwe NGO, Church Aid Workers Targeted By Veterans & Militia

Self-styled Zimbabwean war veterans, ruling party militia and suspected agents of the state security apparatus are disrupting efforts by non-governmental organizations to relaunch food aid in rural districts of Masvingo province, sources said Wednesday.

Sources in Masvingo say the veterans and militia in Masvingo districts including Gutu, Bikita and Mwenezi accused the NGOs of defying a government ban on aid distribution imposed in June but nominally lifted late last month and supporting the opposition – charging in addition that MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai has caused Zimbabweans further suffering by refusing to sign a power-sharing agreement.

Sources told VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the war veterans chased away Red Cross workers attempting to follow up on people displaced by post-election violence.

They said Care International was also among the groups feeling pressure from the war veterans and militia backing President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.

Masvingo is feeling the pinch of hunger following a failed harvest and disruption for the past three months of food assistance distribution channels. Reports said many villagers are surviving by foraging for edible roots and other available foodstuffs.

Harare late last month lifted the ban on NGO humanitarian aid activities that it imposed in June accusing such groups of backing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change ahead of a presidential run-off election. But such organizations have not fully geared up as the government has imposed new registration and reporting requirements.

Chivi Senator Mwenezi Noel Mutisi of the MDC formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that it is ironic the war veterans are harassing aid providers as they have benefited from handouts.

War veterans and militia members are said to be also harassing humanitarian aid workers sent into the countryside by churches, though the ban on non-governmental organizations imposed in June did not extend to church activities.

Sources said Bishop Paul Mkome of the Church of the Nazarene in Headlands has been under pressure from suspected ZANU-PF militia and war veterans over the assistance he has been providing to victims of political violence in the areas.

Such sources said the bishop’s residence has been surrounded in the evening four times in the past few weeks by the suspected war veterans and militia who have urging him to come out and talk about his work. Mkome has arranged victims of violence from the area to be transported to a Harare hospital.

Studio seven was unable to reach Bishop Mkome to confirm the reports.

Elsewhere, Pastor Wilson Mugabe of the United Baptist Church in Gweru, a Christian Alliance member, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he was detained and warned late last week by Masvingo police and Central Intelligence Organization agents after seeking clearance for a prayer meeting and peace march.

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