The MDC said an astonishing outburst by Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba in which he declared that Tsvangirai was a “threat to national security” in fact vindicated its position that military chiefs were subverting the constitutional order.

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“Nyikaramba’s attempt to justify his continued dabbling in political affairs of this country shows his lack of knowledge and understanding of a soldier’s role and duties in a modern democracy,” the MDC said in a statement.

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“We once again challenge Nyikayaramba to leave the army and contest for political power if he has the political spine to do so. He must stop timidly hiding behind the camouflage whilst acting as the Zanu PF megaphone.”

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Zimbabwe’s pro-Zanu PF generals have been under sustained criticism by Tsvangirai, who told SADC leaders recently that the army had staged a coup and was now running the country.

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“It appears the civilian authority is no longer in charge and dark and sinister forces have engaged in a hostile takeover of running the affairs of the country, with or without the blessing of some leaders of the civilian authority,” Tsvangirai said in March.

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He picked on that theme again over the weekend, challenging the generals to take off their uniforms and join him in the political ring. And on a visit to Spain on Wednesday, the Prime Minister told a meeting of the World Justice Forum: “Everyday, they (security chiefs) are dabbling in politics, even seeking to influence the date of the election and the conditions under which that election will be held.

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“The problem has … always been a small, parasitic clique at the helm of the military that is at the forefront of systemic violation of the people’s fundamental rights and freedoms.”

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Now it seems that gloves are off on both sides. Political analysts say it is unlikely Brigadier General Nyikaramba, commander of the 3 Infantry Brigade in Manicaland, would take on the MDC leader in public without approval from army chief General Constantine Chiwenga, who has previously declared his unstinting support for Zanu PF leader President Robert Mugabe.

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“It is interesting to note that Nyikayaramba has arrogated himself the position of the spokesperson of our armed forces,” continued the MDC statement. “We are, however, convinced that he speaks only for himself and some of his rogue colleagues and not on behalf of our very professional members of the armed forces.”