Opponents being tortured, claims human rights forum

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Militant members of President Mugabe's party have set up at least 22 militia bases across Zimbabwe to launch violent government-backed forays of torture and oppression, human rights groups claimed yesterday.

The Human Rights Forum, an alliance of independent groups, said organised political violence has continued without decline throughout the country, leaving at least eight dead in the first few days of this month.

The forum said: "In most cases, victims are abducted to bases ... these bases are springboards for the militia operating in the area and also serve as torture centres."

Mr Mugabe's spokesman, Jonathan Moyo dismissed the claims, saying: "I really don't think I even want to get into that kind of rubbish."

In the past, the government has brushed off allegations of violence. They have called the opposition terrorists and have accused them of being responsible for violence.

According to the HRF, the militia bases are on farms, in townships and at rural trading posts. A statement said: "Victim statements have increasingly indicated the youth militia involved in organised violence have received formal training".

At one of the Zanu-PF party bases at the Mahusekwa Growth Point, abducted victims were beaten and, in some cases, tortured sexually, the statement said.

The forum said that, of the eight victims killed in the country so far this month, four were supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, two were from Mugabe's party and two others were not known.

In January, the forum reported 16 politically related killings, the highest monthly toll since March 2000, when ruling party militants began occupying white-owned farms. The occupations triggered much of the political violence that surrounded parliamentary elections in June last year and has continued.

Human rights groups say 36 people died in political violence in Zimbabwe in 2000 and 89 last year. They say most were black opposition supporters.

The forum said there were 159 reported cases of torture in the first 16 days of this month, compared to 142 in the whole of January.

Sexual torture, a technique also used in the run-up to the 2000 elections, has resurfaced and includes forced rape by men on fellow captives. "Ramifications such as contracting HIV/Aids can be life-threatening, the forum said. Zimbabwe has one of the world's highest HIV infection rates.