Zimbabwe opposition negotiator is accused of treason

In the strongest indication yet that the Zimbabwean regime intends to fight to the bitter end, the opposition's chief negotiator was arrested yesterday and charged with treason.

Tendai Biti, who until this week had led the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) delegation at emergency talks with Zimbabwe's ruling party, left South Africa and was arrested at Harare airport before he could be met by his lawyers. Fellow passengers said he was handcuffed and taken away in an unmarked car. His whereabouts were still unclear last night.

Yesterday, the MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai was twice arrested and released as his new campaign bus toured central Zimbabwe. He spent two hours at a police station in the town of Kwekwe, and was later detained for a further two hours in Gweru, the capital of Zimbabwe's Midlands Province. Mr Tsvangirai has now been detained four times in eight days. His spokesman said: "This is obviously just pure harassment, with police trying to impede Mr Tsvangirai's presidential campaign."

A national police spokesman, Wayne Bvudzijena, suggested that it was in his capacity as negotiator that Mr Biti had made himself guilty of treason: "He will be charged with contravening section 20 of the criminal law codification for publishing a document that was explaining a transitional strategy around 26 March which in its case is a treasonous charge," he said.

State television reported in April that Mr Biti was suspected of being the author of a plot to rig the outcome of the disputed 29 March election in which the MDC won a majority of seats. In the presidential poll, according to the official results, Mr Tsvangirai failed to secure an all-out majority, prompting a run-off against President Robert Mugabe scheduled for 27 June.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said that until a "credible charge" was laid against Mr Biti or he was released, it could only be assumed that his arrest was "part of the pattern of ongoing harassment intended to disrupt lawful campaigning".

Mr Miliband said the international community would hold the Mugabe government responsible for Mr Biti's safety.

Mr Biti had predicted his arrest. Before boarding his plane in Johannesburg yesterday, he said efforts to negotiate a unity government had collapsed. He said the MDC had been prepared to consider a coalition agreement but only with Mr Tsvangirai as president. "Mugabe would have no place in it,'' he said.

Mr Biti said regional leaders had failed to find a solution for Zimbabwe. He feared little would be achieved by a special envoy of the UN secretary general. An Eritrean diplomat, Haile Menkerios, is due to arrive on Monday.

Mr Tsvangirai returned to Zimbabwe on 24 May after a self-imposed exile prompted by fears for his safety. He has twice been charged with treason – including in 2002 when a video apparently showed him plotting Mr Mugabe's assassination.

Meanwhile, the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) announced yesterday that 120 observers had arrived in Zimbabwe out of a total of 400 to be deployed for the presidential run-off. Mr Mugabe has banned Western observers and most of the media. The MDC says at least 60 of its supporters have been killed since the initial polling as part of an state-sponsored intimidation campaign orchestrated by the military. The South African President, Thabo Mbeki, who has been criticised by the MDC for being ineffective and partial in his role as SADC mediator, yesterday defended his approach.

He said South Africa would refuse to participate in "projects based on the notion that we have a right to bring about regime change".

US ambassador warns of ‘massive starvation’

The US ambassador to Zimbabwe has attacked President Robert Mugabe's regime, saying a lorry carrying American aid destined forchildren was ''hijacked'' by the authorities and the food handed out to pro-government supporters.

The ambassador, James McGee, made his remarks after the 20-tonne consignment of wheat, beans and vegetable oil was impounded and redistributed last week. "This government will stop at nothing, even starving the most defenceless people in the country – young children – to realise their political ambitions," he said.

Mr McGee was posted to Harare a year ago and has been one of the regime's most vociferous critics. He angered the Mugabe camp last month when he took Western diplomats on a tour of hospitals where victims of political violence were being treated. He reportedly paid for some of their treatment.

When Mr Mugabe launched his run-off campaign at the end of May, he threatened to throw out Mr McGee. "Tall as he is, if he continues doing that [meddling], I will kick him out of the country," he told a rally.

But the threat has done little to silence Mr McGee. After US and British diplomats were stopped at a checkpoint at gunpoint last week, he was on CNN within minutes railing against the intimidation campaign coming "directly from the top". And after the Zimbabwean government banned field operations by aid groups last Thursday, he warned of the "massive, massive starvation" that might ensue if food kept being used as a political weapon.

The lorry was already on its rounds in the east of the country when the ban was announced, US aid workers said. Mr McGee said that, at one of the schools on the round, the lorry's driver was approached by police officers and a mob led by an army colonel. The driver was accused of trying to bribe people and taken to a police station in Mutare, where he was greeted by a group, led by the Manicaland governor, Tinaye Chigudu, chanting slogans for the ruling Zanu-PF party, Mr McGee said: "The governor instructed the war veterans to distribute the food to Zanu-PF supporters at the rally. Some police officers tried to intervene to stop the looting. The governor told them, 'Stand down'." Mr McGee said that he hadlodged a complaint to the Zimbabwean Foreign Ministry.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power