Zimbabwe: MDC-T Engages Army Chiefs

PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC-T is engaged in sensitive high-level talks with security service chiefs, including military commanders, ahead of crucial general elections later this year in a bid to allay fears they would be removed if President Robert Mugabe is defeated.

Military sources said the talks with top security service chiefs are also aimed at preventing possible political instability or a potential coup if Tsvangirai trounces Mugabe.

While opinion polls show President Robert Mugabe is recovering support, Tsvangirai is widely seen as the front-runner if elections are free and fair.

The sources also said the MDC-T approached senior military commanders to discuss their current and future roles in the security services and packages if Tsvangirai wins. The MDC-T has reportedly told them it is willing to work with those prepared to respect the elections outcome and legitimate will of the people.

The Zimbabwe Independent can exclusively reveal MDC-T defence and security secretary Giles Mutsekwa -- a retired major -- has held talks with hardliners in the military, including Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga,Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) chief of staff (general staff) Major-General Martin Chedondo and chief of staff and quartermaster Major-General Douglas Nyikayaramba.

He is also in the process of engaging ZNA chief-of-staff (administration) Major-General Trust Mugoba.

Mutsekwa, also an MP in Mutare and Minister of Housing has also held talks with Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Augustine Chihuri.

Chiwenga, Chihuri, Chedondo, Nyikayaramba and Mugoba have all publicly declared their partisan support for Mugabe and Zanu PF.

This clique and other senior security service chiefs have become some of Tsvangirai's vicious critics and are feared to be obstacles to the peaceful transfer of power should Mugabe and Zanu PF lose the elections.

Nyikayaramba, Chedondo and Mugoba - who are close allies of Chiwenga - hold the most critical functions in the ZNA and are responsible for its day-to-day running. They have said they would not allow Tsvangirai to rule even if he wins, implying a coup or other worse interventions.

Heads of the army, police and intelligence services operating under the auspices of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) are Mugabe and Zanu PF's pillar of strength.

Since 1980, the military has always played a key role in politics and electoral processes, although that drastically increased after the emergence of the MDC in 1999. The military was influential in Mugabe's disputed victories in 2002 and 2008.

As a result the MDC-T has been engaging army commanders since 2002. Sources said Mutsekwa, who fought in Mozambique in the 1980s, told army commanders their future would be secure under an MDC-T government as they would retain their positions if they so wish and receive full benefits if they chose to retire.

The MDC-T also said it would work with the service chiefs as presently constituted "lock, stock and barrel", although it appreciated that some of the commanders may not be willing to serve under a Tsvangirai government and should thus be allowed to retire without retribution.

Sources said military commanders and senior officers in the intelligence services were consulted by party leaders in the formulation of the MDC-T defence and security policy, which aims at, among other things, having leaner, well-maintained and well-equipped armed forces. The policy will be unveiled at the party's policy conference next month.

Mutsekwa confirmed talks with top military commanders, saying his engagement process has made them appreciate the MDC-T's position although it is clear some of them, especially those publicly opposed to Tsvangirai, were still firmly behind Mugabe and Zanu PF, and were not prepared to work under an MDC-T government.

"I can confirm we have been talking to them. During our interaction, whilst they have not directly expressed that they will resign if we win, you can read in between the lines that they are not prepared to work with us. They fought the liberation struggle under a certain political leadership and system, so they believe in that system," Mutsekwa said.

"We have however assured them that their pensions and their future would be secure. From the look of it, some of them would prefer to go into politics full time and we have guaranteed them that their decisions will be respected in terms of the constitution as long as they don't destabilise the civilian government. We have, however, told them that we are willing to work with them."

Mutsekwa said his party respected military commanders' views and would honour them for the role they played during the liberation struggle.

"The attitude of the security forces, even among those who have been making public statements, has drastically changed. They understand that they will not be victimised and they can see that their future will be secure even without Zanu PF," he said.

MDC-T has been holding informal discussions with the military for some time now. Ahead of the 2002 presidential election former original MDC MPs Job Sikhala, who was secretary for defence and security, and Tafadwa Musekiwa held talks with Air Force of Zimbabwe commander Air Marshal Perence Shiri.

In January 2003 Tsvangirai revealed he had held talks with retired Colonel Lionel Dyke who said he was acting on behalf of the late ZDF chief Vitalis Zvinavashe and Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Efforts to get comment from Mnangagwa, the army and police were unsuccessful.

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