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Cracks Appearing in Zimbabwe's Eight-Week-Old Unity Government

Just one week after Zimbabwe's cabinet gathered in retreat in the resort town of Victoria Falls seeking to achieve cohesion on a program of national recovery, indications are emerging of serious rifts within the unity government cobbled together just eight weeks ago.

A showdown was looming between President Robert Mugabe and his partners in the unity government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara of the two Movement for Democratic Change formations over Mr. Mugabe’s transfer of major portfolio powers from Communications Minister Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai's MDC grouping to Transport Minister Nicholas Goche of Mr. Mugabe's own ZANU-PF party.

The portfolio assignments include oversight of state communications including state-owned fixed-line phone company TelOne and Mobile provider NetOne, and ZimPost. Chamisa had clashed earlier with Information Minister Webster Shamu over those entities.

An outraged Nelson Chamisa told reporter Gibbs Dube of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the president’s move was illegal and violated the September 2008 power-sharing pact.

Elsewhere, the New York Times reported that senior officials in Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party including ministers and members of the Joint Operations Command of security agency chiefs have organized a campaign of violence and intimidation intended to pressure Mr. Tsvangirai and his MDC to agree to a blanket amnesty for past crimes by senior officials.

The Times report said amnesty is particularly sought for perpetrators of political violence last year following the March elections in which it is estimated some 200 people died, mostly members of the MDC, which claimed a parliamentary majority after years in opposition.

As VOA reported Thursday, a number of top ZANU-PF and security officials have formed a shadowy group called the Social Revolutionary Council whose purpose, say ZANU-PF sources, is to frustrate government aims and ultimately destabilize the unity government.

The Times said Mr. Mugabe’s top lieutenants are using abductions, detentions and torture to press for amnesty in connection with events going back to the Gukurahundi campaign against loyalists of Joshua Nkomo in Matabeleland in the 1980s.

The Times quoted Didymus Mutasa, formerly minister of security, now minister of state in Mr. Mugabe’s office, as acknowledging top ZANU-PF officials might be worried about prosecution.

Responding to information from sources as to the existence of a high-level group opposed to Mr. Tsvangirai’s program, ZANU-PF Chief Parliamentary Whip Joram Gumbo dismissed the notion that ZANU-PF hardliners want to sabotage the unity government.

Researcher Glen Mpani at the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa, said holding the MDC to ransom will be counter productive.

London-based political analyst Last Moyo told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that tensions between ZANU-PF party and the MDC are putting the unity government in jeopardy.

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