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U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe says state violence continues unabated
Terry Leonard, Associated Press
April 02, 2007

JOHANNESBURG - A wave of state orchestrated violence continues unabated in Zimbabwe, despite an admission by President Robert Mugabe to southern African counterparts that his security forces were overreacting, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe said Monday.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell said that presidents from southern African countries meeting last week behind closed doors in Tar Es Salaam, Tanzania, told Mugabe his police had been excessive in beating and torturing government opponents.

The summit called Thursday by the Southern African Development Community appointed South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki to mediate a solution to Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis, Dell said in a telephone interview from Zimbabwe's capital, Harare,

However, Dell said he was "skeptical about the prospects of this initiative leading to anything like a positive outcome," considering the past performance of Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" with Zimbabwe.

Citing sources at the meeting, Dell said the presidents had been hard on Mugabe. "He was criticized in particular for the police using violence inside the police stations," Dell said, referring to the March 11 beatings and torture of opposition Movement for Democratic Reform activists, including opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

But the presidents' failure to make their criticism public showed the limit of the South African Development Community's ability to play a constructive goal. "None of this means anything if in public they are going to say nothing and thereby let him control the story," Dell said. "So he came out of the meeting and claimed total victory and nobody dared to contradict him."

Dell said that, based on information from his sources at the meeting, Mugabe acknowledged that his security forces had overreacted, especially in beating Tsvangirai.

The U.S. ambassador also said that, "as far as we are aware, the wave of state orchestrated violence - including abductions, beatings, torture and the unconfirmed but possible killings of MDC activists - continues unabated."

Nine people arrested last week in police raids on opposition headquarters and activists' homes were hospitalized after being beaten while in custody over the weekend, Dell said, noting the alleged abuses took place after the meeting of presidents in Tanzania.

"The state has clearly unleashed its thugs and sort of given them license to follow their worst instincts," Dell said.

Civilians' resolve to resist the oppression, meanwhile, is constantly growing, Dell said, noting a pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops Conference that was read at churches throughout the country Sunday.

The bishops said in the letter that, soon after Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 2000, the wealth and power of an elite group of whites was appropriated by equally exclusive blacks, some of whom have since governed the country through political patronage.

"Black Zimbabweans today fight for the same basic rights they fought for during the liberation struggle," when Zimbabwe was called Rhodesia, the bishops wrote.

The bishops said people "feel they have nothing more to lose because their constitutional rights have been abrogate and their votes rigged.

"Many people in Zimbabwe are angry, and their anger is now erupting into open revolt in one township after another," the bishops wrote.

Dell said Mugabe had managed last week to ram through his nomination as ruling ZANU-PF party candidate in next year's elections, with little debate - proving "he had the ability to sort of manipulate the party at will."

Given the result - that Mugabe will likely run in a March 2008 election - everyone, particularly the opposition, should start now focusing on the campaign.

The opposition needs to step into the race, Dell said, noting Tsvangirai's vow to boycott the election if no reforms were instituted to guarantee a free and fair vote. "This is the third go around of this in the three years I have been here. Every time there is an election, the MDC does this 'to run or not to run act.'"

As a result, when they do decide to contest an election, they are not prepared, Dell said.

In the interview with AP, Dell also denied the U.S. government had given any weapons to the opposition, and also denied claims by the Zimbabwean government that the U.S. was encouraging opposition activists to incite violence.

"Of course it is absurd. It is patent nonsense," Dell said, expressing skepticism that the government had found any weapons in its raids.

"The government has access to an arsenal," Dell said, suggesting it could have planted weapons if it wanted to do so. "The government's whole game from start to finish is to blame the victims" and condone police actions as a reaction to government violence

Dell said he himself continued to be threatened by the government for speaking out about conditions in Zimbabwe. "They say they'll consider it unwarranted interference, and they will throw me out."

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