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New evidence of army role in poll

Dumisani Muleya

FRESH evidence has emerged that the army supervised last year’s disputed presidential poll which Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai is challenging in court.

Confidential correspondence obtained by the Zimbabwe Independent clearly shows the military played a key role in the election which saw President Mugabe returned to power.

Letters between Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander Lieutenant-General Constantine Chiwenga and Zimbabwe Defence Forces chief General Vitalis Zvinavashe show security forces covertly took control of the electoral machinery five days before the election.

The letters provide the first concrete evidence that the electoral process was taken over by the military with the aim, the opposition claims, of securing Mugabe’s re-election.

Mugabe used his powers under the Electoral Act to approve the role of the military on the same day that Zvinavashe agreed to the establishment of a National Command Centre.

In a letter marked “secret” of March 4 2002 to Zvinavashe, Chiwenga proposed the setting up of a National Command Centre “to be in control of the situation before, during and after the election”.

The Independent first reported the militarisation of the electoral process in late 2001, naming a number of officers involved, and in February 2002 revealed that chief elections officer Brigadier Douglas Nyikayaramba was still a serving officer, despite official reports that he was retired.

“Sir, the forthcoming presidential election requires the establishment of a National Command Centre to be in control of the situation before, during and after the election,” Chiwenga wrote.

“It is therefore proposed that Major-General EAC Chimonyo be appointed the commander of the centre and Air Vice-Marshal R Mhlanga be appointed the chief of staff operations.”

Chiwenga said the staff for the centre – which complemented the Joint Operations Command but focused on the election as opposed to the Joc’s brief on security matters – would be staffed with ZNA, Air Force of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Republic Police and Central Intelligence Organisation officers.

“Details of manning levels and concept of operations of this centre are to be worked out by the commander as soon as a go-ahead is given,” Chiwenga said. “It is against this background that we seek your concurrence and further guidance.”

Zvinavashe replied the following day, on March 5, approving the project. This was the same day Mugabe used his powers under the Electoral Act to legitimise the deployment of army, intelligence and police officers to electoral agencies, something previously unlawful. Lawyers said the move was unconstitutional.

“Your proposal to establish a National Command Centre to be in control of the situation prior to, during and after the presidential election is approved,” Zvinavashe wrote back to Chiwenga.

“The COS Ops (chief of staff operations), Maj-Gen EAC Chimonyo will be the commander of the NCC and Air Vice-Marshall R Mhlanga chief of staff operations. Kindly proceed with the detailed arrangements so that the NCC is firm and functional as soon as practical.”

Military sources said the letters, which are likely to be admitted as evidence during the MDC’s court hearing, led to the setting up of the centre, which then directed the election.

Senior military and intelligence officers loyal to Mugabe were put in charge of the centre that became the headquarters from which the poll results were collated and announced, sources said.

Neither Zvinavashe nor Chiwenga could not be reached for comment yesterday. Zvinavashe was said to be in a meeting while Chiwenga was reportedly off-duty.

But Army spokesman Colonel Lameck Mutanda said he knew nothing about the centre. “Officially, there was nothing like that,” he said.

According to reports, 66 soldiers, including lieutenant-colonels, majors, captains and warrant officers were deployed to manage the election.

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