Zimbabwean generals and government officials have told journalists reporting for Western newspapers that the military has taken charge of the process of intimidating voters and organizing the second round of presidential balloting to secure President Robert Mugabe's re-election.
In a report on Saturday headlined "Robert Mugabe 'mobilising command centres for national terror campaign'" - the well-connected Zimbabwean journalist Peta Thornycroft said hundreds of "command centres" led by war veterans in police uniforms were being established across the country "to wage a national terror campaign" of the kind which secured Mugabe victory in elections in 2000 and 2002.
A senior army officer and a police chief described the president's re-election plan to The Daily Telegraph in Harare. At national level, the effort is being overseen by the Joint Operations Command, a committee of armed service chiefs. The two sources attended a meeting in a rural province on Monday morning. This gathering, which included traditional chiefs and local politicians, was addressed by two senior members of Mr Mugabe's regime.
Each command centre will consist of three policemen, one soldier, and a war veteran who will be in charge. They will dispatch militias, comprised of war veterans and the ruling Zanu-PF party's youth wing, to assault and torture known opposition supporters. They will also control the local police to ensure that the militias are immune from arrest.
At the meeting on Monday, a senior member of the regime told the chiefs that a "black against black" war will start if Mr Mugabe loses. He added that even if the United Nations deploys peacekeepers, by then people will have died. "You have to defend the revolution," said the politician. "If you don't and it is sold through the ballot we will go back to the bush and fight."
Thornycroft's report came three days after an unbylined report in the Washington Post which said:
... [A] Zimbabwean general, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described a meeting between top military officers and Mugabe last week in Murombedzi, about 55 miles southwest of Harare, the capital. After declaring to the president that they were in charge, the officers laid out a plan by which he would contest a runoff vote in conditions made far more favorable by military control of polling stations and central counting centers, the general said.
The Post's report suggested that military hardliners had taken control of key elements of government, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, and that Mugabe himself had been somewhat sidelined. It added:
The shift in power is "an interim measure that is meant to stabilize the country at this critical moment," said a top government official and Mugabe confidant, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The arrangement is just temporary because once he wins [a runoff vote], as the army expects him to, he will be back in charge."
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