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Zimbabwe Rights Groups Say ZANU-PF Youth Militia Training in Secondary School

Human rights defenders have called for the closure of the training base, but presidential aide Didymus Mutasa told a Harare newspaper that the youths are school leavers engaged in constructive activities

Zimbabwean human rights groups say about 200 members of the youth militia controlled by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party are being trained at Sherenje Secondary School in Headlands, Manicaland province, contrary to the wishes of local residents.

The member of parliament for the constituency of Headlands is ZANU-PF Secretary for Administration Didymus Mutasa, minister of state in the office of President Mugabe.

Human rights defenders have called for the closure of the training base, but Mutasa told the independent Daily News paper recently that the youths were school leavers engaged in activities that would benefit the local community and themselves.

Sources said about 70 of the youths will graduate later this month and that villagers have been forced to contribute to costs of the ceremony.

Education Minister David Coltart said he was not yet fully informed of what was going on at Sherenje, but promised to comment once he had investigated the situation. Coltart has on a number of occasions declared Zimbabwe's schools off-limits to politics.

Though ZANU-PF considers the youth militia to be performing national service, they are generally regarded as an arm of of the party. Youth militia members were prominent in the deadly violence seen in many parts of Zimbabwe during the 2008 elections.

Manicaland provincial spokesman Pishai Muchauraya of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told VOA Studio 7 reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that the militia have turned the school into a no-go zone and that the youths have been abusive of local residents and demanded they perform menial services.

Neither Youth Minister Saviour Kasukuwere nor ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo could be reached for comment on the situation in Headlands.