By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE – Zimbabwe prosecutors dropped terror charges on Wednesday against six men, including an opposition legislator, accused of plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe, lawyers said.
State media had reported that eight people, inc
luding opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) legislator Giles Mutsekwa, faced terrorism charges in the case.
But on Wednesday lawyers said only seven people had been charged over the weekend and that those charges had since been dropped against all of them except one, a former Rhodesian soldier accused of harbouring an arms cache.
“The prosecutor has withdrawn the case before plea… which is a step where charges are dropped for lack of evidence or because the police cannot finish investigations,” lawyer Trust Manda told Reuters from the eastern border city of Mutare.
One of the men, a policeman, remained in custody on a lesser charge of stealing firearms, he said.
Manda said the seventh accused Peter Hitschmann, who served as a soldier for the former white government of Rhodesia, was still in custody but had no legal representation after dismissing his lawyer last week.
Zimbabwe’s state media had said the group planned to disrupt Mugabe’s 82nd birthday celebrations in Mutare last month. The veteran leader was feted at a municipal stadium by thousands of supporters of his ruling ZANU-PF party.
Political analysts had greeted the plot allegations with scepticism, saying they appeared geared toward putting pressure on Zimbabwe’s beleaguered opposition movement.
Along with Mutsekwa, a sitting MDC legislator, the charges had been laid against two MDC provincial executives as well as three policemen.
GOVERNMENT THREATENS “ELIMINATION”
Mugabe’s government last week announced the discovery of an arms cache including AK-47 automatic rifles, machineguns, shotguns, pistols, revolvers, tear gas canisters, flares, thousands of rounds of ammunition and a two-way radio communication system.
The arms, which were discovered at Hitschmann’s Mutare house, were linked to the alleged anti-Mugabe plot which officials initially said involved as many as 16 people.
The official Herald newspaper reported on Wednesday that Roy Bennett, a former MDC member of parliament and prominent Mugabe critic, might have fled the country to avoid arrest after being implicated in the plot to kill Mugabe and destabilise the country.
The paper said Bennett, initially reported as among those arrested, “is believed to have fled through undesignated points along the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border”. It did not give a source for its information.
Police chief spokesman Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said police were still investigating Bennett’s whereabouts, but declined to give details.
Bennett was released from prison last year after serving an eight month sentence for assaulting a government minister during a debate in parliament in 2004. Authorities say Bennett visited several countries in the region soliciting for donations for the anti-Mugabe mission, but he has not been charged.
Bennett remains the MDC provincial chairman for the eastern Manicaland province, for which Mutare is the capital. Bennett and his wife have been unavailable for comment since the discovery of the weapons cache was announced last week.
The MDC has denied involvement in any military plot against the government and accuses Mugabe and his ruling party of a campaign to silence critics. — Reuter