Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Mugabe warns that veterans are ready to fight opposition

AFP , HARARE

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has warned that veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation war are prepared to take up arms again rather than see the opposition win a June 27 election, state media said yesterday.

“They came to my office after the [first round of] elections and asked me: ‘Can we take up arms?’” Mugabe was quoted by the Herald newspaper as telling a rally in Murehwa, to the northeast of Harare on Thursday. “They said this country was won by the barrel of the gun and should we let it go at the stroke of a pen? Should one just write an X and then the country goes just like that?”

Mugabe told supporters of his ZANU-PF party that he had told the delegation of war veterans that approached him that he did not want the country to go back to war.

However, he repeatedly raised the specter of renewed conflict, reiterating accusations that Morgan Tsvangirai, his rival at the run-off poll in two weeks’ time, was a puppet of wealthy whites and former colonial power Britain.

“It will never happen that this land, which we fought for, should be taken by the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change party] so that they can give it back to our former oppressors, the whites,” he said. “Would you want to vote to go back to war, to fight for the country which we liberated?”

Mugabe said that voters had made a “mistake” by giving Tsvangirai a majority in the first round, albeit less than the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.

The MDC also wrested control of parliament from ZANU-PF on March 29 in a simultaneous legislative election.

Meanwhile, the No. 2 figure in Zimbabwe’s opposition was yesterday facing a treason charge after his arrest within minutes of arriving back home to campaign in the June 27 presidential run-off election.

Police also detained MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai twice on Thursday in central Zimbabwe, holding him for some two hours the first time, and about four hours the next, before releasing him.

Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC, could face the death penalty if convicted of treason. The charge he faces centers on claims he plotted to rig an MDC victory in first-round elections three months ago.

Biti — an outspoken critic of Mugabe, whom he accuses of trying to hang on to power at all costs — was arrested on Thursday even before he reached passport control at Harare airport.

At the UN in New York, meanwhile, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes warned that the upcoming harvest in Zimbabwe would likely feed only a quarter of the country’s people.

“I was briefing the council on what is a very worrying, very serious and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe,” Holmes told reporters.

“Against that background ... the decision [earlier this month] by the government to suspend field operations by international NGOs and private volunteer organizations working in Zimbabwe was particularly regrettable,” Holmes said. “I deplore that decision and I hope very much they’ll rescind it in the very near future.”

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