/ 9 May 2008

Dramatic rise in Zim violence, say doctors

Levels of organised violence and torture have escalated dramatically in the last fortnight in Zimbabwe amid mounting tensions over the country’s disputed elections, a coalition of doctors said on Friday.

”Since the last report on April 25, our members have reported a dramatic escalation in incidents of organised violence and torture, with the number of victims documented in the post-election period now standing at more than 900,” the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said in a statement.

”This figure grossly underestimates the number of victims countrywide as the violence is now on such a scale that it is impossible to properly document all cases.”

The association said that the number of cases appeared to have risen particularly sharply in the last week, blaming the security services and hard-line supporters of veteran President Robert Mugabe for the attacks.

”In the last 24 hours alone, 30 victims have been treated for limb fractures in Harare hospitals and clinics and supplies of plaster of Paris bandages are reported to be exhausted in most health centres,” it said.

”The current pattern of organised torture and violence being perpetrated by state security agents in the rural areas of Zimbabwe is similar to that documented prior to the 2002 elections” when Mugabe was last re-elected.

”However, the current violence is dramatically more intensive and unrestrained. The level of brutality and callousness exhibited by the perpetrators is unprecedented and the vicious and cowardly attacks by so-called war veterans on women, children and the elderly shames the memory of all true heroes of the liberation struggle.”

Intensive talks

Meanwhile, South African President Thabo Mbeki on Friday held intensive talks with veteran counterpart Robert Mugabe over the post-election crisis.

Mbeki, the Southern African region’s chief mediator on Zimbabwe, went straight into talks with Mugabe after arriving in Harare for his first visit since the announcement of presidential election results.

The talks at State House lasted for more than three hours before Mbeki left for the South African embassy in Harare without making any comment to reporters.

He was not due to meet any other Zimbabwean officials or opposition representatives.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which won control of Parliament and whose leader won a first-round victory against Mugabe at general polls on March 29, has called for Mbeki to be axed as a mediator over his softly-softly approach towards the Zimbabwean leader.

The MDC has said 30 of its supporters have been killed in attacks by Mugabe followers since election day and thousands more have been tortured or injured.

Those figures have been strongly disputed by the Zimbabwean authorities who have accused the opposition of being behind violence, such as arson attacks.

The authorities have been rounding up an increasing number of high-profile opponents, including the veteran editor of one of the country’s few remaining independent newspapers on Thursday.

The main labour federation, meanwhile, said its two top leaders had been arrested over speeches made to workers at a May Day rally.

Although there was no immediate confirmation from the police, a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said its president, Lovemore Matombo, and secretary general Wellington Chibebe were in custody.

”They were arrested yesterday [Thursday] for inciting people to rise up against the government” during anti-government speeches made to supporters on May Day, ZCTU spokesperson Last Charabuka said.

The ZCTU was formerly headed by Tsvangirai. — AFP