Mugabe says UK backs opposition 'terrorists'

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The Independent Online

President Robert Mugabe raised the temperature further in strife-torn Zimbabwe yesterday when he named three opposition politicians as "terrorists" and claimed Britain was funding them.

After three days of violence in Zimbabwean cities, the President told a crowd of mourners attending a funeral that the days of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were "numbered".

Mr Mugabe, 77, said opponents of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) received their "dirty money, dirty tricks from the British Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the government of Tony Blair".

At the funeral in Harare for a murdered ruling party activist, Cain Nkala, Mr Mugabe, who faces elections early next year, named three MDC politicians as terrorists. "Comrade Nkala's brutal murder was a bloody outcome of an orchestrated, much wider and carefully planned terrorist plot by internal and external enemy forces with plenty of funding from commercial farmers in the [southern African] region and organisations internationally," he claimed.

"Let it be heard in the tall towers of London: we shall never brook attempts to subject us directly or indirectly to colonial rule," he said.

Mr Nkala, a liberation war veterans' leader in southern Matabeleland, was found dead last Tuesday after being abducted on 5 November. The authorities claim the killing was the work of the MDC, while the opposition says Zanu-PF killed Mr Nkala as part of an internal score-settling exercise.

Police have arrested at least 12 MDC members, including an MP, Fletcher Dulini Ncube. Opposition activists fear yesterday's speech was an incitement to ruling-party activists to kill MDC supporters and frighten voters from the ballot boxes when the presidential election takes place, probably in February. The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has already survived at least three apparent assassination attempts.

In his speech, Mr Mugabe singled out three MDC politicians as terrorists: Mike Auret, MP for Harare Central; David Coltart, MP for Bulawayo North; and Mr Coltart's campaign manager, Simon Spooner. All are white and Mr Auret and Mr Coltart played a leading role in the 1980s in revealing details of an armed campaign launched by Zanu-PF against so-called "dissidents" in Matabeleland, which claimed an estimated 18,000 lives.

Mr Spooner is already in police custody, having been arrested in connection with Mr Nkala's abduction. Yesterday, The Independent tracked down Mr Coltart , who is shadow justice minister, for his reaction.

The 44-year-old lawyer said: "For all Mugabe's rhetoric, we are and have always been committed to non-violence. We are not deviating from that policy. We are going to have to rethink our campaign strategy and obviously the violence of the past week has been unsettling for many of our supporters. But it is the ultimate irony that the ruling party has to kill one of its own to then accuse us of violence."

Mr Coltart vehemently denied that he was "in hiding" and insisted he would honour a commitment to address European Union ambassadors in Harare this week. However, last week he was held up at gunpoint by 16 police officers armed with AK47s when a small plane he was on board attempted to take off from an airport in Harare. He underlined yesterday the irony that Britain had donated a few years ago the Land Rover Defenders in which the police arrived.

Zimbabwe has already endured two violent polls – a referendum in February last year and parliamentary elections in June last year. Now it has been brought to its knees by a campaign to keep Mr Mugabe in power for a further five-year term, which would mean a total of 26 years.

Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party has, with the aid of armed militias, staged high-profile land occupations of commercial farmland – a tactic to keep the inequity of land distribution to the poor at the centre of the election campaign. Dozens of people have died, crop planting has been disrupted to the point of threatening food supplies, tourism has collapsed and inflation has soared to nearly 100 per cent.

While the European Union has begun imposing sanctions, the UN World Food Programme is planning a relief operation to feed some 500,000 people. However, the government has banned independent agencies from distributing the rations.