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No Plans to Arrest Zimbabwe NGOs Monitoring Constitutional Outreach - Officials

Select Committee Co-Chairman Douglas Mwonzora of the MDC formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said monitors or observers are free to participate as long as they identify themselves to the committee for accreditation

Two of the three co-chairmen of the parliamentary select committee in charge of Zimbabwe's constitutional revision process said Monday that it is not true, as press reports have suggested, that they have called or will call for the arrest of non-governmental organization activists monitoring the ongoing public outreach process.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have deployed 420 monitors to observe the consultative phase of constitutional revision. Press reports said committee members had accused the NGO monitors of spreading falsehoods and wanted them arrested.

Select Committee Co-Chairman Douglas Mwonzora of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told VOA Studio 7 reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that observers are free to participate as long as they identify themselves to the committee and secure accreditation.

Co-Chairman Edward Mkhosi of the MDC grouping of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara said he was not aware that anyone on his committee was calling for the arrest of independent monitors. Mkhosi told VOA that the panel is encouraging wide participation in outreach meetings being held across the country.

VOA was unable to reach the ZANU-PF co-chairman of the committee, Paul Mangwana, who was quoted by the Web news source ZimOnline as saying NGOs have a “hidden agenda” and calling for the arrest of monitors.

The three non-governmental organizations monitoring meetings said they will issue a response on Tuesday to the accusation that they are misrepresenting what is going on in the troubled outreach process. Since it's launch last month the process has been plagued by organizational and logistical problems, and alleged intimidation of the public by liberation war veterans and youth activists of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Irene Petras, spokeswoman for the independent NGO monitoring organization, told VOA that the three organizations involved were meeting on Monday to prepare a response to the allegations.

A spokesman for the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe rejected the charge the monitors are disseminating false reports, saying there has in fact been intimidation of the public by war veterans and ZANU-PF youth with, at some venues, only war veterans allowed to speak during outreach meetings.

Commenting on the controversy, National Constitutional Assembly spokesman Madock Chivasa, whose organization opposes the Parliament-led process, told Jonga Kandemiiri the NCA supports independent monitoring.

In the outreach process itself, a report from Grasslands, Mashonaland East, said that despite public information efforts by organizers there was still low turnout with most meetings attended mainly by political party members.

Zimbabwe United Residents Association Secretary General Masimba Ruzvidzo, in Grasslands Monday monitoring meetings, said most of those attending were women, and that youth have not been very forthcoming.