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Senior Zimbabwe Military Officer, Backing Mugabe, Calls for Elections This Year

Public declarations from top military and security officials like Nyikayaramba have sharpened attention to calls by the Movement for Democratic Change for reform of the army, the police and Central Intelligence Organization

A senior Zimbabwean military office has stated that the country should hold elections this year and urged that President Robert Mugabe, 87, be retained as president for life.

Brigadier General Douglas Nyikayaramba, who’in charge of the Third Infantry Brigade in Manicaland province, told the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper that that Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party would win the next elections and "ensure stability."

Public declarations from top military and police officers like Nyikayaramba, who described Mr. Mugabe as father of the nation, have focused attention on calls by the Movement for Democratic Change for major reforms of the security sector before new elections.

Nyikayaramba denounced the push for such reforms, vowing as other top officers have in the past never to salute Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the dominant MDC formation, even if he were to win the presidential contest in the next elections.

He accused Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a member of the Tsvangirai MDC formation, of withholding money from the security services to incite mutiny by soldiers.

Nyikayaramba is a familiar figure in Zimbabwean electoral politics: he retired to become elections chief during the 2002 presidential that the MDC says was rigged in favor of Mr. Mugabe. Nyikayaramba later returned to active duty in the military.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai immediately condemned Nyikayaramba’s remarks in a keynote address at the launch of a new panel of Zimbabwean elders on Friday in Harare.

Mr Tsvangirai said such utterances put the country in an “unnecessary war mode" and clearly show that elements in the military want to usurp civilian authority.

Retired Zimbabwe National Army officer Martin Rupiya, director of the African Public Policy and Research Institute, told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that Nyikayaramba’s remarks show that the service chiefs remain intransigently partisan.

Political commentator Bhekilizwe Ndlovu called Nyikayaramba’s statements reckless.

The panel of elders launched by Mr. Tsvangirai is a non-governmental organization that aims to promote peace and good governance in the country. It includes traditional chiefs, retired politicians and officials, church leaders, judges and doctors.

Mr. Tsvangirai said the organization has been formed at a time when political violence is on the rise amid expectations that elections will be called before too long - perhaps even for this year if Mr. Mugabe dispenses with negotiations and calls snap elections.

Zimbabwe Panel of Elders Chairman Gordon Chavhunduka, a traditional healer, told Studio 7 that the group's unique composition will help it achieve its objectives.