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Zimbabwe's Smaller MDC Formation Up in Arms Over Matabeleland Arrrests

The MDC officials were coming from Victoria Falls where they had held private meetings with the local branch of the party in an ongoing campaign to galvanize the smaller MDC formation's base of support

Fresh tensions arose in Zimbabwe's power-sharing government following Sunday's arrest of Industry Minister and Movement for Democratic Change formation leader Welshman Ncube and 19 other party officials for supposedly holding an illegal meeting.

Ncube and his fellow MDC officials were released after four hours without charges.

Two other ministers were detained with Ncube: National Healing Minister Moses Mzila Ndlovu and Regional Integration Minister Priscilla-Misihairambwi Mushonga.

The MDC officials were coming from the northwestern resort town of Victoria Falls where they had held private meetings with the local branch of the party in an ongoing campaign to galvanize the smaller MDC formation's base of support with elections in the offing.

As the convoy entered the Matabeleland North town of Hwange, a coal-mining center, police intercepted it and led the politicians to the local police station where the three ministers were accused of violating the Public Order and Security Act.

They were held for four hours then released without any charges being brought. A police spokesman in Matabeleland North Province said the MDC leaders were merely invited to explain their activities adding, “their security is our concern," according to a report in the state-run, pro-ZANU-PF Herald newspaper, published in Harare.

Ncube MDC spokesman Nhlanhla Dube accused ZANU-PF of using the police to stoke tensions within the unity government by constantly harassing MDC officials.

The MDC formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been the object of such attentions far more frequently in recent months.

Also in connection with Matabeleland, ZANU-PF has established five committees to investigate long-standing concerns of underdevelopment in the region. The move has drawn mixed reactions from the public and divided ZANU-PF members.

Vice President John Nkomo presided over the so-called Matabeleland Joint Regional Development Indaba (Meeting) on Sunday in Bulawayo during which committees for economic affairs, education, health, water affairs and infrastructure were formed.

The committees will present findings and make recommendations to the ZANU-PF national executive. No time frame for the investigations has been set.

Matabeleland activists have long complained that their region has been sidelined for development, saying infrastructure destroyed during the 1980s Gukurahundi era of conflict between rival liberation forces was never replaced.

A senior ZANU-PF official who declined to be named said some in the party do not support the focus on Matabeleland, arguing that others are just as underdeveloped.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, chairman of the panel on the Matabeleland economy, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that suggestions by some commentators that ZANU-PF is merely electioneering have no basis.

But political analyst and Matabeleland activist Effie Dlela Ncube said it is obvious the ZANU-PF focus on Matabeleland is a bid to curry favor ahead of the elections.

Presidential, general and local elections are expected some time in 2012.