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Zimbabweans detail abduction spree

Fresh details of recent abductions, beatings, and forced confessions of Zimbabwe's opposition leaders and civic activists emerged Tuesday during a press conference.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 14, 2009

Now free: Opposition official Bothwell Pasipamire was abducted in Zimbabwe last month by Mugabe loyalists.

Courtesy of the Movement for Democratic Change

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

The men came for Bothwell Pasipamire just after midnight on Dec. 13, armed with pistols. With his wife screaming, they pushed him into a brand-new white Toyota pickup truck, and took the young newly elected councillor of a small rural town on what he thought would be the last drive of his life.

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For the next three days, Mr. Pasipamire would be beaten, tortured, and forced on camera to beat a mutinous Zimbabwe army soldier, and then confess to various crimes against President Robert Mugabe's government, until he was finally allowed to escape by sympathetic intelligence officers.

His story – told to reporters from the safety of Johannesburg, South Africa, as civic activists and fellow members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) face trial for treason this week in his native Zimbabwe – speaks volumes about the brutal lengths to which Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party is willing to go to stay in power, nine months after losing national elections to the MDC.

"The ZANU-PF, they are trying to cause fear within the people of Zimbabwe," says Mr. Pasipamire, speaking with the Monitor at a Johannesburg hotel. "For example, I am a town councillor. People will say, 'If a councillor is abducted, eh! What about myself?' "

Three months after agreeing to share power with the MDC in a coalition government, Mugabe continues to rule his impoverished and famished country with an iron fist.

While neighboring African nations urge Zimbabwe's contending parties to set their differences aside, and are putting extra pressure on MDC leaders to reach a deal, any deal, Mugabe's security agencies are sweeping the country, arresting, beating, and then charging rivals with crimes punishable by death. In such an environment, experts say, peaceful negotiation is nearly impossible.

"This diminishes the prospect of a functional coalition government," says Ozias Tungwarara, an expert on Zimbabwe for the Open Society Institute in Johannesburg. "ZANU-PF has never been serious about reforming the political environment. Their only interest is holding on to political power at all costs."

Mugabe's campaign of terror – coming at a time of complete economic collapse, growing famine, and a cholera epidemic as water and sanitation systems break down – began almost as soon as he agreed to a power-sharing deal with the MDC on Sept. 15.

The MDC, whose president, Morgan Tsvangirai, defeated Mugabe in the first round of elections on March 29, reports that some 40 of its members have disappeared from their homes since Oct. 25. Eleven of these abductees, like those abducted during the presidential campaign earlier this year, have never surfaced and are thought to be now dead.

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