Mugabe offers compensation for 25,000 civil war killings

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The Independent Online

In a surprise policy change the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, has announced that the government is ready to compensate the families of an estimated 25,000 people killed in an opposition stronghold during the civil war in the early 1980s.

In a surprise policy change the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, has announced that the government is ready to compensate the families of an estimated 25,000 people killed in an opposition stronghold during the civil war in the early 1980s.

President Mugabe's announcement at a memorial service in Bulawayo on Sunday surprised his audience of 2,000. He said he would ask community leaders in Matabeleland region to compile a list of victims' families for compensation by his government.

"It was painful to our people and saw lots of deaths... We regret that and we would hope it never happens again," President Mugabe said.

For 10 years the Presidenthad vowed never to apologise or compensate the victims of his feared North Korean-trained Five Brigade army unit, originally deployed in 1981 to track down armed bandits but which ended up killing thousands of civilians in Matabeleland, home to Zimbabwe's second largest Ndebele tribal group.

President Mugabe prepared the ground for his latest announcement at the funeral on 12 July of his vice-president, Joshua Nkomo, when he said he was sorry for the atrocities committed by the Five Brigade.

President Mugabe told the gathering at the memorial service it was not out of arrogance that he had refused to apologise or make a public statement on the victims in southwestern Matabeleland. He said he had responded to a personal appeal from Mr Nkomo. "Nkomo said to me, 'Robert, do not make statements on this one, I will handle it'," he said.

President Mugabe had regarded Mr Nkomo as the chief sponsor of the bandits before his Shona-dominated ruling Zanu PF merged with Mr Nkomo's Zapu in 1987. Their Unity Accord ended the conflict in Matabeleland.

Different civic society groups have called for the enactment of legislation to facilitate the compensation.

Political analysts say that in the absence of Mr Nkomo's calming influence, restless Ndebeles, who constitute about 15 per cent of Zimbabwe's population and argue their people have been economically sidelined, could pull out of Zanu-PF and plunge the country back into ethnically divided political camps.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in two decades, widely blamed on government mismanagement. President Mugabe, 75, has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980. He is expected to face his strongest opposition yet at next year's parliamentary elections from a newly formed labour-backed party.

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