Mugabe deploys army in capital

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The Independent Online
HAVING SENT a large section of his army on the dubious mission of maintaining his friend Laurent Kabila in power in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Robert Mugabe has now deployed a further chunk of it to prevent anarchy in his own capital.

Fuel prices were raised by 67 per cent at the weekend, in a desperate attempt to contain the damage the Zimbabwean President's latest quixotic adventure has wreaked on the hopelessly battered economy.

His force of 6,000, shipped with its hardware halfway across the continent, is making precious little headway against the Uganda-backed rebels in the east of Congo. Harare claims eight Zimbabwean soldiers have died in the adventure, while the rebels say they have killed 60. Both sides appear to agree that 16 Zimbabwean troops are being held prisoner.

Harare has already been rocked by food riots once this year, and hostility to the autocratic Mugabe government has remained at boiling point. To siphon off the cost of his war effort from an economy already on its knees was reckless to say the least, and while ordinary Zimbabweans are paying with their empty pockets or their lives, the 74-year-old President is paying with an ever deepening erosion of his authority.

On Wednesday, arson and rioting spread through a number of Harare suburbs to the neighbouring town of Chitungwiza. On Wednesday night, more than 50 people were arrested for suspected looting. Government sources said secret service agents had been deployed to sniff out protest ring-leaders.

One man was reported killed, run over by a civilian truck while demonstrating in the street. Yesterday heavily armed soldiers and police patrolled Harare's Glen Norah township and Chitungwiza.

One of the chief obstacles to Mr Mugabe's powerplay in Africa is his neighbour and rival, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. He has been pushing hard for a negotiated settlement to the trouble in the Congo, fearing Mr Mugabe's favoured military "solution" could spread war across Africa.

"It is our view that our continent is facing one of the greatest dangers since colonial days. If this conflict is not stopped the danger of a massive African war is a reality," South Africa's deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, said yesterday.

South Africa believes Rwanda is the key to a settlement. One of the driving forces of the war is the presence of Rwandan Hutus in Congo, many of whom took part in the 1994 genocide of Rwandan Tutsis that claimed up to a million lives.

Mr Mandela's strategy is to persuade Rwanda to acknowledge its presence in Congo, after which security guarantees could be discussed. The strategy will be tested today when he meets Rwanda's military leader, Major-General Paul Kagame, for the second time in a week.