Zimbabwe army takes charge

Timba has not been heard from since, a lawyer from his party said yesterday.

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An official at Harare central police station on Friday confirmed to the German Press Agency dpa that Timba was being held there.

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“We have been holding Jameson Timba since Friday afternoon. He might appear in court on Monday,” the police official was quoted as saying yesterday.

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The arrest came two days after a top army general sensationally claimed that the military would not allow anyone except Mugabe to be president of the country.

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And amid all of this comes a report that Mugabe and his Zanu-PF ruling party are unrolling a paramilitary strategy and openly using the army to campaign for them ahead of the next crucial elections.

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Civil society organisations grouped under Crisis Coalition said in a report, titled “The Military Factor in Zimbabwe’s Political and Electoral Affairs”, that there is need for urgent security-sector reforms to restrict the military to their barracks.

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The report also says Zimbabwe’s military interference in political and electoral affairs has become the biggest threat to democracy in the country ahead of the elections.

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The comprehensive report covers topics which include the gradual militarisation and politicisation of electoral institutions, direct military interference in electoral affairs, political violence and intimidation, the military’s toxic role during the 2008 elections, patronage and military entrenchment in the economy, and the power-sharing government’s failure to subject the military to civilian control.

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The report also states that, as part of this broad strategy, state institutions have been militarised. It says that, through Mugabe’s patronage system, the military is now bene-fiting from lucrative mining deals and other money-spinning ventures.

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Events since the beginning of this year have shown that Mugabe and Zanu-PF have a clear strategy to use the military as a weapon to win the next elections, the report adds.

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“Earlier this year, various civic groups reported deployment of soldiers across the country to direct election campaigns for Zanu-PF and to spearhead violence and intimidation.”

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The report says the situation will get worse, with plans by Zanu-PF to deploy tens of thousands of youth militias across the country before the elections.

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Meanwhile, Timba’s arrest signals the beginning of a renewed crackdown on Mugabe’s opponents.

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It also comes as the row intensifies between Mugabe and Tsvangirai following the recent SADC summit in Sandton, where the veteran Zimbabwean ruler was routed by his impatient colleagues.

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Zimbabwe has a long history of fierce political repression, manifested in intimidation, harassment, arrests, detentions, disappearances and killings with impunity.

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Tsvangirai and senior MDC-T officials this week said they feared for their lives after an outbreak of a war of words between them and the agi-tated military.

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Zanu-PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo, reportedly close to the military, publicly lobbied attorney-general Johannes Tomana to investigate Timba and to have him arrested.

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Timba was picked up soon after his arrival from Barcelona, Spain, where he had accompanied Tsvangirai to the World Justice Forum.

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His comments were published in the Sunday Times and he had also written an opinion piece on the same issue in the Standard Newspaper.

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Moyo, who of late has been complaining about “national security issues”, has also demanded that Tsvangirai be probed for calling Mugabe a “liar” over the outcome of the SADC summit at a rally last weekend.

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At the same rally in the Midlands city of Gweru, Tsvangirai challenged army commanders dabbling in politics to remove their uniforms and join the political fray as civilians.

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Addressing the World Justice Forum this week, Tsvangirai said: “Every day they (state security service chiefs) are dabbling in politics, even seeking to influence the date of elections and the conditions under which those elections will be held.”

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His hard-hitting remarks came in the wake of recent statements by Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba, saying the army wanted Mugabe to die in office.

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The military has also said Tsvangirai would not be allowed to rule even if he won the elections.

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Tsvangirai has said Mugabe told him he wanted to retire, but suspicions are that he is being held hostage by the army.

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After the publication of the articles in the Sunday Times and the Standard, Moyo, a former information minister and now Zanu-PF’s chief propagandist, launched a campaign on state television, radio and in newspapers calling on authorities to arrest Timba and to question journalists from the independent media, saying they were working to undermine Mugabe.

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Moyo is said to be close to hardline securocrats who are blamed for gross human rights abuses and for keeping Mugabe in power.

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Journalists in Zimbabwe are now living in fear, as Moyo seems to have relaunched a crackdown on the country’s private media.

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During his reign, newspapers were closed while journalists were being arrested.