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Abductions of Zimbabwe activists could ruin talks

Twenty activists from the Movement for Democratic Change opposition party have been abducted since October. Their whereabouts are still unknown.

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But the abductions of 20 MDC activists starting in October, and culminating with the abduction of Zimbabwe Peace Process leader Jestina Mukoko, her lawyer, and two of her co-workers, seems to have diminished, if not broken down, any chance of joint-rule.

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The abductions of Ms. Mukoko and the activists of Zimbabwe Peace Project were well planned and targeted, carried out by armed men in civilian clothes, driving unmarked cars. Human rights activist Tiseke Kasambala says the abductions resemble those carried out by pro-Mugabe supporters during the March elections. Mukoko's group was known for its work in documenting the pre- and postelection violence against political activists, and for naming the perpetrators.

"We believe there is evidence that people operating on the instigation of Zimbabwe authorities have carried out these abductions," says Ms. Kasambala, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Johannesburg, South Africa. Because Mukoko's reports are critical of Zimbabwe authorities, she adds, it's possible that "the authorities were looking for them because of the nature of their work."

Mugabe's stronghold targeted

Besides Mukoko, another 20 MDC activists have been abducted from the capital of Harare and from the region of Mashonaland West. Shona-speakers have always formed the strongest base of support for Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, but voters in Mashonaland rebelled at election time in March 2008, giving the MDC party control of Parliament for the first time in 28 years, and making Mr. Tsvangirai the leading vote-getter for president, with nearly 49 percent of the vote.

For its part, the Zimbabwe government alleges that the MDC has unleashed a terror campaign of its own.

Zimbabwe authorities claimed this week that the neighboring country of Botswana was training insurgents to overthrow the Mugabe regime, and they have also blamed MDC members in the firebombing of homes of ZANU-PF officials.

When Air Marshal Perence Shiri, a cousin of Mugabe's who led a counterinsurgency campaign in the early 1980s that killed nearly 20,000 civilians, was shot near his farm this weekend, police were quick to cast blame on the MDC.

Biti called the government's charges "illogical."

"As a matter of fact, we are not training bandits," he told the Monitor. "In fact, the MDC is a de facto government of the day."

"We control Parliament," Biti said. "The chairman of the MDC, Lovemore Moyo, is the speaker of Parliament and the president of the MDC is the prime minister-designate. So how does the MDC, which is controlling government, want to destroy that?"

Our correspondent in Harare could not be named for security reasons.