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Fresh charges for MDC ministerial pick Bennett

Latest update : 2009-02-19

An MDC official, Roy Bennett, was arrested on Friday and charged with treason. On Sunday, those charges were dropped and Bennett was told he faces charges instead of attempts to commit terrorism, banditry, and sabotage. He appears in court Monday.

AFP - Zimbabwe ministerial pick Roy Bennett, whose arrest has marred a nascent unity government, faces terrorism charges after police dropped treason accusations, his lawyer said Sunday.

Bennett, an opposition member who returned from self-imposed exile last month, will appear in court Monday to answer charges of attempt to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage, said his lawyer, Trust Maanda.

Maanda said police claim that Bennett plotted to buy arms to attack a telecommunications station in Bromley, east of Harare, "in order to disrupt essential services."

"Police have interviewed him and recorded his statement in response to the allegations," Maanda told AFP. "He will appear at Mutare Magistrate Court Monday morning."

Bennett, a member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was arrested Friday shortly before President Robert Mugabe swore in ministers for the unity government. MDC chief Morgan Tsvangirai was made prime minister.

Bennett was initially charged with attempting to leave to country after his arrest at an airport on the outskirts of Harare -- a charge that was later changed to treason.

"The police must have realised that they had no leg to stand on. Their case would not hold water," Maanda said.

If Bennett is not released, his arrest is likely to delay his swearing-in as deputy minister of agriculture this week -- together with other deputies.

The MDC decried the charges against Bennett.

"All these charges are politically motivated, driven by a vindictive and malicious political vendetta against Roy Bennett and the people of Zimbabwe," the MDC said in a statement.

"This does not give confidence to the inclusive government and the healing which the country desperately needs," the party said.

MDC members had been camping outside the Mutare police station since Bennett's arrest to ensure that he is not moved to unknown holding stations.

Bennett has a long history of bitter rivalry with some of Mugabe's top brass.

A white farmer from the lush Chimanimani region near the border with Mozambique, his farm was expropriated under Mugabe's land reforms in 2003.

The following year he was jailed for eight months for assault after he punched the justice minister during a heated debate in parliament on the land programme.

He had returned last month from three years of self-imposed exile in South Africa, where he had fled to escape charges of plotting to kill Mugabe.

The unity government joins bitter enemies who must try to work together to pull Zimbabwe out of a deep crisis marked by hunger, the world's highest inflation rate and a deadly cholera epidemic.

Regional leaders pressured Mugabe and Tsvangirai into the power-sharing deal to end nearly a year of political turmoil following disputed elections last March.

The elections gave the MDC a majority in parliament. Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential vote but pulled out of the run-off against Mugabe, citing violence against his supporters.

Laurence Caromba, an analyst at the University of Pretoria's Center for international political studies, said Zimbabwe faces several scenarios if the unity government collapses.

"ZANU-PF may choose to resolve the matter by calling for new elections, although it would almost certainly lose," Caromba said.

"Alternatively, ZANU-PF may choose to govern the country itself, with the MDC going back to being the political opposition.

"The worst-case scenario is that the government has deteriorated to the extent where nobody can govern the country effectively anymore," he added.

Date created : 2009-02-15