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Delegates in security sweep

Gift Phiri

SIGNS of what appear to be growing concerns about President Robert Mugabe’s security were dramatically illustrated on Wednesday when more than 700 delegates attending a three-day national HIV/Aids

conference at the Sheraton Hotel were subjected to intrusive body searches before the arrival of Mugabe and his wife Grace.

Mugabe officially opened the conference which ended yesterday.

Visiting South African Health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msi-mang and Angolan deputy Health minister, José Van-Dunem, were among those searched.

Cabinet ministers, members ofthe diplomatic corps, heads of international organisations, invi-ted guests and delegates were thoroughly frisked by state security personnel in an unprecedented security sweep.

Some 200 law-enforcement agents were deployed to the conference venue on Wednesday, in addition to special support and response teams.

Chemical and biological sensors were strategically positioned at all entrances to the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) where Mugabe delivered his keynote address. The sensors were complemented by detection equipment, including radiation pagers on the belts of some law enforcement officers.

The CIO is understood to have provided intelligence support while Zimbabwe National Army bomb disposal teams, including sniffer dogs, were part of the security set up.

It was not possible to obtain comment from the CIO and the army. Police spokesperson, Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka, said: “Sorry, I cannot say anything about that.”

Delegates who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent complained of the unprecedented security at an Aids conference.

“It’s as if there was some terror threat from somewhere yet it was just a head of state supposed to address an Aids conference,” said a member of the organising committee who declined to be named.

The Independent was told that last week all agencies with an operational role in security participated in an hour-by-hour run-through of the event.

According to a security official, all vehicles leading to the conference were swept for explosives.

Sources in the ruling party confirmed heightened security fears surrounding Mugabe adding that they were now subjected to searches before entering cabinet meetings.

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