Harare "Senior" police officer travelling to Mutare to interview Bennet

Harare – A Zimbabwe ministerial nominee whose arrest cast further doubt on a newly sworn in unity government will be questioned by police on treason charges later on Saturday, his lawyer said. Roy Bennet was arrested in Harare, but a Senior police officer is now travelling to the City of Mutare 270 km away.\r\n

"A police officer from Harare is expected later this afternoon to formally question Roy Bennett of charges of treason," Trust Maanda said of the top aide to new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

"We are hoping he will appear in court on Monday as the law stipulates that no person shall be held without trial for over 48 hours."

His arrest on Friday came shortly before President Robert Mugabe swore in new ministers for a unity government and cast doubt on the credibility of a power-sharing accord.

The unity government will see the country’s bitter enemies attempt 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.

Bennet, arrested at an airport on the outskirts of Harare, is a coffee farmer from Chimanimani, a lush region near the border with Mozambique, who had been set to become the deputy minister for agriculture.

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.

His party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), on Saturday claimed in a statement that he was being denied food while being held at Mutare prison.

But his lawyer later told AFP that he gave him food during his visit on Saturday morning.

"I went to see him. I gave him food which he ate. He looks fine and does not show any signs of having been subjected to any physical harm," said Maanda.

He was initially charged with attempting to leave the country illegally, but the charge was later changed to treason, according to his party.

Bennett was among the most striking names on Tsvangirai’s cabinet list.

His Charleswood farm was expropriated under Mugabe’s land reforms in 2003, and 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.

On Friday evening, police fired shots in the air to disperse a crowd of MDC supporters who were gathered outside Mutare police station asking for Bennett’s release, his lawyer said.

One analyst said Bennett’s arrest seemed to reflect concerns from within Mugabe’s ruling party as it begins sharing power for the first time.

"The arrest mirrors divisions among the top brass of the long-ruling party who are not happy about losing power," said Daniel Makina, a Zimbabwe analyst at the University of South Africa. "Some of them are against the change."

– AFP