Mugabe's 'brutal' police chief lands role at Interpol

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's police commissioner, who is accused of being a driving force behind President Robert Mugabe's brutal repression of opponents, has been appointed honorary vice-president of Interpol.

Zimbabwe's police commissioner, who is accused of being a driving force behind President Robert Mugabe's brutal repression of opponents, has been appointed honorary vice-president of Interpol.

Augustine Chihuri is on a list of close Mugabe associates subject to sanctions by the European Union and the United States because of the regime's human rights abuses. Yet it emerged yesterday that he has accepted an invitation from the international police organisation's President, Jesus Espigares Mira, to take up the honorary post. The Zimbabwe Herald, the state-owned newspaper which is a mouthpiece for the Mugabe government, said the appointment was a "show of confidence" in the Zimbabwean police force by the international community.

Interpol's decision to honour Mr Chihuri comes as repression of the political opposition and the privately-run media in Zimbabwe has been dramatically stepped up. Andrew Meldrum, the Guardian's Zimbabwe correspondent, was in hiding yesterday after state agents, believed to be immigration officials, raided his home on Wednesday night.

The Tory foreign affairs spokesman, Michael Ancram, called on the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to protest against Mr Chihuri's "staggering" appointment. In a letter to Mr Straw, he said: "During the brutalisation and rape of Zimbabwe, the police force has stood by and done nothing to uphold law and order. Indeed, the police force is cited in many cases of human rights abuses.

"[Chihuri] is one of Mugabe's closest cronies. What kind of message does this send to the Mugabe regime? Far from being ostracised, it is being honoured."

This is not the first time that Mr Chihuri's links with Interpol have come to the attention of Zimbabwe's critics. Last year he was admitted to France, despite the EU's travel ban, for a meeting at the organisation's Lyon headquarters. Back in Zimbabwe he has overseen the systematic torture of thousands of suspected opposition supporters , including MPs and activists, in police custody. He has defied several court orders to stop illegal seizures of white-owned farms and to act against any opponents of the Mugabe regime.

Using sweeping security powers, Mr Chihuri has ordered arbitrary arrests, banned opposition meetings and generally made it impossible for civic society to organise and operate freely in Zimbabwe. In 2000 he broke the law by declaring his support for Mr Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party. This violated the Police Act, which requires the police to be non-partisan.

Since 2000, Mr Chihuri has allowed Mr Mugabe's militant supporters to seize farms violently and murder 14 white farmers and more than 300 black opposition supporters in political violence. He also been involved himself in evicting a white farmer from a prime property in Mazowe district, which he has since permanently occupied.

Farmers and opposition supporters have given up expecting help from Mr Chihuri's men. Several opposition supporters have recently died after being tortured by the police.

Mr Chihuri was also linked to a high-profile corruption case in which top Zanu-PF officials – including Mr Mugabe's wife, Grace – looted a state fund meant to built low-cost houses for junior civil servants to build mansions for themselves.

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