Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lawyers condemn rising state violence in Zimbabwe

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — State-sponsored violence is increasing in Zimbabwe, human rights lawyers said Tuesday, joining other independent groups in condemning a suggestion from regional African leaders that President Robert Mugabe retain some control over his police force.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said pro-democracy organizations had recorded more than 1,300 cases of political violence in September, up 39 percent from the previous month. The cases ranged from property destruction to rapes and killings.

Zimbabwe's Mugabe and main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing agreement Sept. 15, but that has yet to lead to a unity government, partly because of a dispute over who should control the police ministry.

At a weekend summit, regional African leaders suggested that Mugabe and Tsvangirai run the police ministry together. Tsvangirai rejected that suggestion, raising the possibility that Mugabe could unilaterally name a government.

The lawyers and other independent Zimbabwean groups meeting Tuesday in neighboring South Africa blame the police for the recent violence and say Tsvangirai is right when he insists the opposition have complete control of the police.

The government denies charges that its security forces and ruling party militants have attacked the opposition, instead blaming the violence on Tsvangirai's supporters. Yet independent human rights monitors say the government is responsible for an overwhelming majority of attacks.

From January to July 2008, 17,600 people in Zimbabwe were affected by political violence, Irene Petras from the lawyers' group told reporters Tuesday. Violence peaked during Zimbabwe's disputed March presidential vote to its discredited June presidential runoff, then eased and is now rising again.

Gorden Moyo of Bulawayo Agenda, a Zimbabwean civil rights group, called the ministry-sharing suggestion "devastating," while another activist, Elinor Sisulu, said it was a recipe "for conflict and paralysis."

Without a government — whether multiparty or unilateral — Zimbabweans are without leadership as their economy collapses. Zimbabwe's inflation rate is the highest in the world. Hospitals and schools have closed because there's no money to pay doctors and teachers, and food and other essential goods are desperately scarce.

The U.N. World Food Program said Tuesday that without extra donations, it will run out of food in January — just when it says the number of Zimbabweans needing food aid will rise to 5 million, or nearly half the population.

Already, the WFP has reduced rations for hungry Zimbabweans because of the funding shortage — cutting the monthly amount of corn from 12 to 10 kilograms (26 to 22 pounds) and the amount of beans by nearly half to 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds).

WFP said it fed 2 million Zimbabweans in October and planned to reach around 4 million in November.

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