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Banana flees after court's guilty verdict

ZIMBABWE HAS issued a warrant for the arrest of its former president, who has fled the country after being found guilty of sodomy.

Canaan Banana, 62, who was ceremonial president from independence in 1980 until 1987, when Robert Mugabe made himself executive President, was put on trial in June this year on 11 counts of sodomy - which is illegal in Zimbabwe - and homosexual assault. He was found guilty on all counts, He could face 22 years in prison if the usual penalty of two years were to be given on each charge. Sentencing is scheduled for 10 December.

The chief prosecutor, Augustine Chikumira, said Banana illegally went to neighbouring Botswana before the verdict and the government will seek his extradition.

Banana's case has embarrassed President Mugabe, who insists homosexuality is foreign to African culture and was brought to the continent from the West. He has described homosexuals as "lower than pigs and dogs".

The Botswana Foreign Ministry confirmed Banana was in the country, but had received no request for asylum. Banana could face charges for entering the country without a passport. The state-controlled Herald newspaper of Harare reported that Banana, a Methodist minister, may have taken refuge with the Anglican church in Botswana.

Prosecutors alleged Banana used his authority to force members of his staff into homosexual acts.

Botswana's deputy police commissioner, Edwin Batshu, said extradition proceedings would begin once Banana was found.

"He did not meet any people in authority nor did he report that he was here," a presidential spokesman said.

A spokesman for Archbishop Walter Mkhulu, who has argued against laws banning homosexuality, said Banana and the archbishop had met on Wednesday, but he did not know the whereabouts of the former president.

A South African official said Pretoria also had no knowledge of Banana's whereabouts. South Africa has a liberal constitution and has repealed laws against homosexuality.

Uganda has imported 90 tanks to bolster its armed forces, a senior Ugandan official said yesterday.

Uganda has been backing a rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo attempting to oust President Laurent Kabila. The Ugandan government also faces two separate rebellions in the country's north and west.