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Zimbabwe Human Rights Issues Cloud Prospects For Regional Bailout

A Zimbabwean High Court justice ruled Tuesday that jailed deputy minister-designate Roy Bennett should be granted bail pending judicial action on charges he possessed weapons to be used for terrorism - but the former white farmer and opposition official continued to be held after state prosecutors announced they would appeal the decision.

Bennett remained behind bars in a remand prison in the eastern Zimbabwean city of Mutare, to which he was brought after being arrested on Feb. 13 at an airport outside Harare on the same day the cabinet of a national unity government was being sworn in. Bennett, treasurer of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, was designated deputy minister of agriculture but has yet to be sworn into office.

Correspondent Irwin Chifera reported from Harare on the high court decision.

For more on the legal issues involved, reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Beatrice Mtetwa, Bennett's lawyer, who said the state's appeal based on a section of the Criminal Procedures Act was an abuse of the law.

Bennett's legal team asked the High Court judge to refer the issue to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC formation issued a statement calling the state appeal in the case "malicious and vindictive."

The Bennett case threatened to spill over into regional politics ahead of a meeting Wednesday of finance ministers of the Southern African Development Community in Cape Town, South Africa, at which they were to consider financial assistance for Zimbabwe's reconstruction.

Regional financing may not be as much of a sure thing as it seemed last week when Prime Minister Tsvangirai met with South African President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Sources said some SADC finance ministers have expressed displeasure at allegations that 300 million rand in South African agricultural aid to Zimbabwe was diverted, while other SADC officials are expressing concern about Bennett's continued detention.

SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salamao told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare’s bailout is the top item on the SADC ministers' agenda.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said he was unaware of any deal reached by Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai as to the release of political detainees, countering that Mr. Tsvangirai by writing to the High Court on behalf of Bennett had interfered with justice.

Tsvangirai MDC Spokesman Nelson Chamisa warned that the Bennett case jeopardizes the very existence of the national unity government.

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