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New armed group vows to capture Mugabe

14th November 2003

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A new group opposed to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe came out of the shadows yesterday, vowing to wage armed struggle to bring down his government.

In a videotape seen in London, the leader of the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement was quoted as saying that Mugabe could be assassinated "any day, any time," but that it would be better to bring him to justice alive.

"The thing is, we just want him alive," said the movement's self-described national commander, whose nom de guerre is Charles Black Mamba, by way of an actor who repeated his words on the tape, wearing a balaclava.

"If we wanted to just kill him, we could have done it. But now our aim is not to kill him, but to get him alive, so at the end of the day he receives the truth," he said with a Zimbabwean flag visible behind him.

The videotape was screened in a London art gallery by Peter Thatchell, a veteran British gay and human rights activist who has tried a number of times to get Mugabe arrested during his occasional visits to Europe.

Thatchell described the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement as a network of underground cells made up of guerrilla fighters, soldiers and spies, with arms dumps filled with automatic weapons and mortar devices.

He said it would not engage in acts of terrorism, but would use the minimal force necessary if Mugabe did not give up power in the southern African country.

"The Zimbabwe Freedom Movement is committed to removing him by force," Thatchell said. "They will attempt to seize him or arrest him and then put him on trial".

He said the movement would also try to arrest high-ranking government officials, but reiterated that the movement would attempt to use "minimum violence".

Its leaders were hoping for a "critical mass" of support, whereby defence and security officials actually protecting Mugabe would be the ones who eventually arrested him, he said.

The movement's deputy national commander, who also featured in the videotape, was identified as Ntuthuko Fezela.

Britain, the former colonial power in what used to be called Rhodesia, leads international opposition to Mugabe's regime, notably over its aggressive land reform program that has forced white farmers to give up their properties.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of severe economic hardship, with inflation exceeding 455%, 70% of the work force unemployed and chronic shortages of food, fuel and medicines due to a lack of hard currency.

The main political opposition to Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party has been the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Commenting on the new group, junior foreign minister Chris Mullin said yesterday that Britain - though concerned about Mugabe's regime - does not support the use of violence to oust him.

"The British government have made clear we can have nothing to do with any attempt to overthrow the government of Zimbabwe by violence," he told reporters in London.

Mullin said he believed one or more members of the new group had made an informal approach to the British embassy in Harare, but were told "very firmly" that London would have nothing to do with their project.

"We want to see as quickly as possible a return to democracy and the rule of law, and free elections," he said. "When that happens, we think the country will have a future again. Under the present management, it is on the road to nowhere". – Sapa-AFP.
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