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Zimbabwe Cabinet Filled Out Amid Alleged Offer For Opposition Figure's Freedom

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday swore in five ministers of state and 19 deputy ministers at State House in Harare, nearly completing the ministerial lineup for the new national unity government but conspicuously lacking Roy Bennett, the former white farmer named deputy agriculture minister by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported for VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe.

Despite reports Bennett might be sworn into office, he remained in police custody in the eastern city of Mutare having on Wednesday been remanded to March 4 on charges he had possessed firearms with the intent to engage in "terrorism, banditry and insurgency."

Bennett's lawyer, Trust Maanda, and officials of the Movement for Democratic Change wing led by Mr. Tsvangirai declared the charges fabricated and political.

Elsewhere, sources said officials of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party offered Bennett his freedom in exchange for a blanket amnesty for whatever abuses members of the long-ruling party might have committed since ZANU-PF came to power with independence in 1980.

Bennett’s wife, Heather, told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri in an interview from Johannesburg that her husband related to her the offer from an unnamed "appointed official" and said he had immediately rejected the allegedly proffered deal as improper.

Observers meanwhile noted that Bennett is only the latest individual to be snared in the web of the state justice system for what man consider to be political reasons.

About 40 MDC and civil society activists, most prominently Zimbabwe Peace Project Executive Director Jestina Mukoko, abducted from her home Dec. 3 and later handed over to police, are languishing in jails in Harare and Bulawayo despite the unity government's formation.

For perspective on the outstanding issue of political prisoners, perplexing for Mr. Tsvangirai who has come under fire from Heather Bennett for not acting more decisively to secure her husband's release, Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere turned to independent analyst Rejoice Ngwenya and National Constitutional Assembly Deputy Chairman George Mkhwananzi.

Ngwenya said it is important the new government allow the course of justice to take place without political interference. Mkhwananzi disagreed, saying that the incarceration of Bennett and the others is political and therefore a political solution must be found.

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