Nkomo: abduction no idea of his

Disowning the abduction of six tourists by dissident guerrillas in the Matabeleland area of western Zimbabwe, opposition leader Joshua Nkomo July 25 called for their immediate release, writes Monitor contributor Tony Hawkins.

Mr. Nkomo, who heads the minority ZAPU Party and who has increasingly become the target of bitter government criticism as dissident activity has grown, told newsmen that his former ZIPRA Army no longer existed. He said there is only one army and one government in Zimbabwe - that of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.

Nkomo's statement followed the capture of nine tourists and their driver July 23 by some of the estimated 2,000 ex-ZIPRA guerillas operating against the government security forces in Matabeleland. Four of the abductees were released with a note demanding the release from detention of two senior military members of the former ZIPRA and an end to what the kidnappers described as Mugabe government ''harassment'' of Nkomo. But Nkomo, clearly alarmed and embarrassed that his party and himself were being implicated in the event, called on the abductors to release the two Americans, two British, and two Australians immediately.

Whether Nkomo's statesmanlike move will temper the mood of those in Mr. Mugabe's Cabinet who seem set on the destruction of his ZAPU Party is problematical, but the most likely outcome is negative.

An unrelated development of note over the weekend was the attack of Zimbabwe's main air force base early Sunday. A number of aircraft were damaged, a government statement said. Local residents reported a series of explosions ripped through the base, outside the midlands city of Gweru. It was the second major attack on a military installation in Zimbabwe since independence two years ago.

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