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200 opposition members ask for US assistance

Latest update : 2008-07-05

Several hundred members of Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition party MDC gathered in front of the US embassy in Harare to ask for help in ending violence that has plagued the country in recent months.

As thousands of cheering people greeted Zimbabwe’s disputed leader Robert Mugabe as he returned to Harare from an African Union summit in Egypt on Friday, hundreds of supporters of the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) party displaced by the recent state-sponsored violence sought refuge outside the US embassy compound in the Zimbabwean capital.

Wilf Mbanga, editor of The Zimbabwean, the country’s leading independent newspaper, told FRANCE 24 that more than 200 supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s party had gathered within the embassy’s compound and that “something had to be done quickly” to curb a potential health hazard.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 on Friday, Mbanga confirmed that since the disputed March 29 elections, around 100 MDC supporters have been killed, 5,000 others are still missing and a further 200,000 have been displaced by the violence.

So far, the US embassy in Harare has managed to find shelter for about 200 people who had camped in and around the compound, US embassy spokesman Mark Weinberg told the Reuters news agency. Women and children were moved to safe houses on Thursday night and about 160 men were be put in the care of the UN and other aid agencies, said Weinberg.


Operation Decapitation

This latest group is just a fraction of suspected opponents of Mugabe who have become targets of the ruling Zanu-PF party’s "Operation Decapitation" – a grisly named campaign to intimidate MDC supporters.

A French diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, told FRANCE 24 that the US embassy was an ideal shelter as it was right in the centre of the city.

The Catholic Church has also been sheltering some of Tsvangirai’s supporters, although in some rural areas government forces have beaten priests and even razed their homes. Civilians and opposition supporters also risk being snatched by security forces, according to Mbanga.


A regional exodus

Numerous MDC loyalists have even been forced to flee to neighbouring Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana, according to Mbanga. There were no figures on the exact numbers slipping through these porous borders.

South Africa is currently deporting illegal immigrants, while Botswana has set up a refugee camp to shelter fleeing Zimbabweans, Mbanga noted. Refugees remain dispersed in Mozambique and Zambia.

AU leaders meeting in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh had called for a dialogue between the two opposing sides and the formation of a national unity government, an option rejected by Tsvangirai.

Mbanga described this as a carefully crafted Mugabe tactic to dismantle MDC’s political stronghold.


Still seeking a way out of the deadlock


As for the future of this political deadlock, Mbanga maintains that Tsvangirai can not negotiate with Mugabe while his backers continue to be murdered and face torture. With no other solution in sight, he called on the international community to intervene and come to the aid of Zimbabweans, noting that Africa alone could not resolve this spiralling crisis.

The French diplomat told FRANCE 24 that there was no room for dialogue unless violence ended and both parties acknowledged the hotly contested outcome of the first round of the presidential elections, held on March 29.

“The main issue is not political negotiations,” said the French diplomat. “but the fate of the martyred population, beaten, battered and at the edge of asphyxiation.”

Date created : 2008-07-05

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