MDC denies links to arms cache

Angus Shaw

Harare – Police discovered a weapons cache in eastern Zimbabwe and linked it to a little-known group that state radio identified on Wednesday as the military wing of the main opposition party.


Nelson Chamisa, a spokesperson for the anti-Senate f

action of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rejected allegations it was linked to an armed group.


The weapons, including automatic rifles, submachine guns, tear gas and military radio equipment were allegedly stored by a white former army officer, identified as Michael Hitschmann, who the radio said claimed to be a member of the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement.


Attorney Tafadzwa Mugabe said lawyers were trying to see Hitschmann and six others on Wednesday, including at least two MDC supporters, arrested in connection with the cache in the eastern border city of Mutare, 260km east of Harare, where the weapons were found.


It was not clear when the six others were arrested. State radio said Hitschmann was arrested late on Monday in Mutare.


British-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell announced the formation of the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement, which he called an armed rebel movement, at a 2003 news conference in London. Tatchell said he had no connection with the group and was only acting as its messenger.


Tatchell also said the group, which has not been heard from since the 2003 news conference, had no connection to the MDC and received no aid from outside Zimbabwe.


The MDC has repeatedly denied recruiting insurgents or plotting violent action against the government.


“We are a legitimate democratic political party. We don’t draw legitimacy from the barrel of a gun,” spokesman Chamisa said Wednesday.


The MDC was once seen as posing a significant threat to an increasingly autocratic President Robert Mugabe, but in recent months has been weakened by internal disputes that resulted in a split.


State radio said Hitschmann alleged the military wing of the opposition was co-ordinated by former lawmakers Roy Bennett and Giles Musekwa, a former army major.


In Harare, Bennett denied any links with the alleged military group. Musekwa was unavailable for comment, but there were no reports of his arrest, Chamisa said.


Both Hitschmann and Musekwa served in the military of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence in 1980.


The radio said the cache contained five automatic rifles, seven Uzi submachine guns, 11 shotguns, three silencers, a selection of hand guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, 15 tear-gas canisters, 20 flares, four telescopic sights and communications equipment.


Tatchell said at the London news conference announcing the formation of the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement that the group aimed to overthrow Mugabe and then to put him on trial. He said the group hoped to slowly build support among the country’s security forces so it could seize the president and trigger a “bloodless democratic revolution”.


He also said the group consisted primarily of serving members of the Zimbabwean armed forces, police and intelligence services.


Chris Mullin, then Britain’s minister for Africa, said at the time that he believed members of the movement had informally approached British authorities and had been told “very firmly” that Britain would have nothing to do with their project. — Sapa-AP

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