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Inquest Into Fire Death of Former Zimbabwe Army General Mujuru Begins

Police finished their investigations, but took the rare step of requesting a court inquest into Mujuru's death after many people, including his wife raised many questions

A court inquest into the death of former Zimbabwean Army General and ZANU-PF kingmaker Solomon Mujuru, who died in a mysterious house inferno last year opened Monday, in a case that could spark clashes between rival factions in President Robert Mugabe's party.

Mujuru died at his farmhouse in Beatrice, south of Harare in August, and his death deepened the divide within ZANU-PF where the general's wife, Vice President Joice Mujuru leads a faction many say is a moderate wing of the party that helped bring political independence to Zimbabwe in 1980.

The inquest opened at the Harare Magistrates Court with some witnesses giving contradicting evidence and Joice Mujuru's attorney Thakor Keawada complaining that some documents in the case were not given to the family on time.

Police finished their investigations, but took the rare step of requesting a court inquest after many people, including his wife, queried how a trained commander could have failed to escape the fire through the farmhouse's low-level windows.

His widow has said she believes there was foul play.

At least 42 witnesses are expected to testify as well as a team of South African forensic experts who will offer opinions on whether Mujuru died before, or as a result of the blaze.

Party insiders say the late retired general had been leading those in ZANU-PF calling for the ageing Mugabe to relinquish power.

The inquest started by investigating speculation that Mujuru was too drunk to escape the blaze, with a string of witnesses testifying that he was sober.

A barmaid at a Beatrice drinking hole, where Mujuru was a regular patron, testified that the ex-army boss had stopped in on his way home but had little to drink.

"He was not drunk," barmaid Portia Kamvura told the packed courtroom. "He left around 7:00 pm saying he did not want to drink much as he had a journey to make the following morning."

His widow attended the hearing with his two daughters. The inquest continues.