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List of Zimbabwe Political Prisoners Grows Even As Unity Government Formed

One issue left conspicuously unresolved on Friday as a national unity government was put in place in Zimbabwe was the status of political prisoners accused - though in some cases not formally charged - with plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai late last year issued an ultimatum that party members of his Movement for Democratic Change formation held under remand along with civic activists such as Zimbabwe Peace Project Director Jestina Mukoko must be released or he would break off discussions to form the unity government which came into being this week.

Not only have authorities failed to release those prisoners but on Friday arrested a senior MDC official, party treasurer Roy Bennett, nominated as deputy agriculture minister.

Reports emerging later Friday suggested he had been taken to Mutare, close to his former Manicaland province constituency of Chimanimani, which he represented in 2000-2005.

Mr. Tsvangirai's party issued a statement later Friday saying Bennett was being charged with treason - a charge Mr. Tsvangirai himself faced in a 2004 trial in which he was acquitted - and called the accusations "scandalous, vexatious and without basis in law," Reuters reported. The party said Mutare police fired shots to break up a crowd demanding his release.

What becomes of Bennett and the more than two dozen other MDC and civic activists being held - many of them for months following their abduction by state security agents - could determine whether the unity government will effectively address the country's massive problems or simply repackage the MDC-ZANU-PF adversarial relationship.

There was one positive development Friday in Mukoko's case: legal sources said a magistrate ruled that she and MDC activist Fidelis Chiramba should remain at the Avenues Clinic for further medical treatment for a week before the court reviews their case.

Lawyer Harrison Nkomo told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he was encouraged by the latest development in the case.

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