Zimbabwean Catholic rights group calls on political leaders to stop township violence
By Associated Press,
HARARE, Zimbabwe — A Roman Catholic human rights group in Zimbabwe called on political leaders Sunday to intervene to end a surge in violence that has seen rival political party supporters driven from their homes and created no-go zones in Zimbabwe’s capital.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace said that recent skirmishes and assaults have occurred in the western Harare township of Mbare, an area loyal to the prime minister. They said the unrest has even forced some men to visit their families secretly at night to “avoid being caught by politically dogmatic groups” opposed to democratic rights.
In a statement Sunday, the group said most perpetrators of the violence were “shipped” into the township. Rights groups say militants and security forces loyal to longtime President Robert Mugabe have previously led political violence.
The group said that Mbare market stalls have been seized, household goods and personal belongings confiscated and streets around a key medical clinic became “so unapproachable and inhospitable” that victims of violence and HIV patients were afraid seek care or collect their medication there.
It said the violence “is imported. Most people behind the violence are not permanent residents in the area.”
An all-party committee formed by regional leaders to monitor implementation of the 28-month-old coalition agreement between Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has played down continuing violence across the country but last week acknowledged there was still unrest in Mbare.
Critics of the committee accuse it of not doing enough to highlight bitter disputes in the coalition and say it meets irregularly and lacks powers and money to work effectively countrywide.
An alliance of independent human rights organizations to which the Catholic commission belongs has reported a marked increase in violence and intimidation since Mugabe this year called for early elections to bring the coalition to a close.
It said that political tensions rose throughout Zimbabwe. The group said Mugabe militants were mobilized and police and the military loyal to Mugabe stepped up arrests and harassment of opponents, Tsvangirai party politicians and independent journalists.
Mugabe’s party blames Tsvangirai’s party for starting violence.
The Catholic commission on Sunday quoted victims of violence saying they were being punished for “participating in political associations of their choice.
“In extreme cases, some Mbare families have lost their houses to people who belong to other political parties,” it said.
It urged political leaders to realize that votes are won by maintaining justice and human rights.
“How, for example, can a person who dislocated his jaw in political violence vote for the political party responsible for dislocating it?” Sunday’s statement said.
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