/ 16 December 2008

Zim warns of ‘terror’ plot after air force chief shot

Zimbabwe’s embattled government claimed on Tuesday to be victim of a terror campaign after an assassination bid against the air force chief, as Western powers turned up the diplomatic heat on Robert Mugabe.

With the death toll from a cholera epidemic now nearing 1 000, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon delivered an apocalyptic assessment of the political and health crises afflicting a nation that was once seen as a post-colonial role model.

Former colonial power Britain, meanwhile, said the 84-year-old President Mugabe was in denial about the state of the Southern African nation he has led since independence 28 years ago.

Officials said the attack on air force chief Perrance Shiri, who was shot in the arm while driving towards his farm on Saturday night, was part of a larger campaign of terror being waged against senior figures.

”The attack on Air Marshal Shiri appears to be a build-up of terror attacks targeting high-profile persons, government officials, government establishments and public transportation systems,” the state-run Herald newspaper quoted Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi as saying.

The incident comes in the wake of a series of bomb explosions at police stations in Harare and an attack on a bridge outside the capital, according to the daily.

‘Compelling evidence’
Zimbabwean authorities claimed on Monday they had ”compelling evidence” that neighbouring Botswana was harbouring and giving material support to opposition-aligned rebels seeking to topple Mugabe.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has refuted the claims, saying it is convinced the government was preparing a state of emergency as an excuse to further disregard rule of law in the nation.

Botswana’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said the claims were ”nothing more than distorted and or concocted evidence, none of which is supported by facts”.

Botswana has been one of the few African nations to publicly criticise Mugabe, with South Africa preferring to pursue a line of ”quiet diplomacy”.

Diplomats said that South Africa had blocked a bid by the United States to have the UN Security Council adopt a non-binding statement condemning Mugabe for his failure to protect his people from the cholera outbreak.

Some Western council members said they hope to make a fresh push for adoption of such a statement in January when South Africa will no longer sit on the council.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki has been trying to mediate between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai since the disputed elections in March.

Although he did persuade the pair to sign a power-sharing agreement in September, it is still to be implemented amid disagreements over who should control key ministries.

In his briefing to the council, Ban said that the UN was being effectively locked out of the efforts to resolve the impasse as ”neither the [Harare] government nor the mediator welcomes a United Nations political role”.

‘Multi-sectoral crisis’
”The current cholera epidemic is only the most visible manifestation of a profound multi-sectoral crisis, encompassing food, agriculture, education, health, water, sanitation and HIV/Aids,” he added.

The Security Council session was held as new UN figures showed 18 413 people had been affected by cholera and 978 had died of the water-borne disease.

With the last official estimate putting inflation at more than 230-million percent, the government is so short of money that it can no longer afford the chemicals needed to treat water supplies.

Mugabe caused an uproar last week when he said ”there is no cholera”, although his spokesperson later said his comments were meant as ”sarcasm”.

Speaking at the UN headquarters, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband slammed ”the denial of reality” by Mugabe, saying Ban had painted a ”shocking” image of a country collapsing on all sides. — AFP