Envoys appeal for calm in Zimbabwe as tensions mount

Western envoys issued a unprecedented joint appeal to Zimbabwean security forces to be impartial and non- political as tensions rose sharply over the arrest of a cabinet minister loyal to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Recent weeks have seen a surge in violence and arrests targeting supporters of Tsvangirai, as well as a wave of anti-Western rhetoric that has followed President Robert Mugabe’s threat to hold an election soon, discarding undertakings to follow a road map of democratic reforms.

Early Thursday police arrested Energy Minister Elton Mangoma on charges of violating official tender procedures, and later the speaker of parliament, Lovemore Moyo, who is chairman of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, was removed from his position by the supreme court.

Tsvangirai told a press conference that the actions were an attack on the heart of the two-year-old coalition government between him and 87-year-old Mugabe, and an attempt by Mugabe to regain what he lost in an election. The country was in crisis, he said, calling for a clean divorce of the coalition through credible elections.

An appeal signed by 22 ambassadors from European Union countries, the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia, appealed to the country’s security force, the attorney general, and the judiciary all of which are seen as controlled by Mugabe, to discharge their duties in an impartial, non-political way.

The note expressed concern at an upsurge in what appeared to be politically motivated intimidation and violence, despite the power-sharing government having struggled to bring stability to Zimbabwe and pave the way for a democratic transition through credible elections.

Such a combined appeal has never been made by the diplomatic community in Harare in the last 31 years of Mugabe’s rule, and observers say it indicates deep anxiety over the volatility of Zimbabwe’s political situation.

Lawyers said Mangoma had been charged with violating official procedures for tenders for fuel supplies.

Mugabe’s news media have been claiming that Mangoma had sanctioned the import of 6 million US dollars’ worth of fuel by a South African company in January during a critical shortage of diesel and petrol.

Tsvangirai said that Mangoma had addressed the issue in a cabinet meeting and everything was in the open. He said the arrest was by a partisan police force meant to obscure ZANU(PF)’s own corruption.