14 June 2007

Zimbabwe: Army Investigates Reports of Coup Plot

Unconfirmed reports say influential retired Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander, General Solomon Mujuru has been placed under house arrest following reports of a foiled coup plot against Robert Mugabe.

Accurate information about the country's military activities is notoriously difficult to find and a highly reliable army source told Newsreel it was too early to put the 'pieces together'. He confirmed military intelligence officers were following up on the names of some 'big guns' believed to be involved in the plot.

'The problem with Mujuru is that even under house arrest no soldier can stop him from venturing out. The best they could do is put him under surveillance and monitor his phone calls which they might have been doing all along,' said our source.

Another serving officer told us information circulating widely in the army was that Mujuru was placed under house arrest a few days after Major General Engelbert Rugeje and Air Vice Marshall Elson Moyo were picked up after being fingered as the coup leaders. Mujuru still wields vast influence over many military officers who came through Zanu (PF)'s armed wing, ZANLA.

Retired army Colonel Bernard Matongo said the implications of the alleged coup plot have left Mugabe in limbo because he has no-one else to trust. Mugabe has always banked on the support of his loyal defence forces to sustain his rule. His party has split into two, with both factions fighting to get rid of him.

'If reports of the coup plot are true then Mugabe has been left standing alone. The only people he can trust now are his bodyguards, many of whom are his close relatives, otherwise his position as head of state is becoming less secure by the day,' Matongo said.

Reports of the coup plot were suppressed in the country until Thursday when the weekly Financial Gazette carried the story. Some details had first emerged last week when The Zimbabwean and The Zimbabwe Times both published reports of the coup.

Sources in the army told us this is the first time since independence that investigations over a coup plot have been carried out in the country. Usually a barrage of denials from the army meets any mention of a coup against Mugabe.

But the army has not uttered a word or issued a denial this time, suggesting reports might be true. Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi last week took the unusual step of confirming to The Zimbabwean newspaper that several soldiers had been arrested, but for 'misconduct.'

First reports of the alleged plot filtered through when a Major Sigauke was reportedly instructed by General Rugeje to put his B squadron of the armoured regiment on standby. Sigauke once served under Rugeje at Inkomo barracks but became suspicious of the order and informed the chief of the defence intelligence, Brigadier Mike Sango. Sango in turn passed on the information to General Constantine Chiwenga, who immediately briefed Mugabe of the plot.

Newsreel is also reliably informed that the army's Presidential Guard, headed by Brigadier Armstrong Gunda and the Special Air Services under the command of Colonel Panga Kufa, were put on high alert following reports of an impending coup. It is not known what role top co-accused Air Vice Marshall Moyo might have played in the alleged plot, but it's believed almost all pilots in the Airforce of Zimbabwe are loyal to him as the only high ranking officer able to fly an aircraft. After independence Moyo was a flying instructor at Thornhill Airbase in Gweru where he trained the majority of pilots who are senior officers now.

Other senior commanders like Air Marshal Perence Shiri and his deputies Air Vice Marshals Henry Muchena and Abu Basutu don't have flying wings.

Meanwhile the UK Daily Telegraph also carried reports of the 'coup' Thursday and said that seven serving and former officers of the army have been charged with plotting against Mugabe.

The paper said the men were arrested in stages, beginning on May 29, and appeared twice in closed hearings at Harare magistrates' court earlier this month. A police record of the arrests said that the officers were accused of 'treason' over a plot in which they aimed to overthrow Mugabe and install Emmerson Mnangagwa, the rural housing minister, in his place.

There are conflicting and different reports about the coup, suggesting that this is all part of the bitter infighting in Zanu (PF) as both factional leaders have been mentioned as being involved. It is known Mujuru and Mnangagwa don't see eye to eye and that both men are reportedly plotting behind Mugabe's back to oust him from power. It also seems one camp is now blaming the other for this plot.

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