Catholic leaders sceptical about Zimbabwe election run-off

By staff writers
May 14, 2008

The run-off in the Zimbabwean presidential election will not be credible without an immediate end to intimidation, violence and torture and deployment of reliable international election observers, the Catholic Church in the region has said.

"Out of concern for the people of Zimbabwe, the bishops of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa appeal for international and regional pressure to end the systematic intimidation, violence and torture in Zimbabwe. The current environment is not conducive to free and fair run-off elections," declared Archbishop Buti Tlhagale OMI, President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference two days ago.

Archbishop Tlhagale said he and Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop of Durban, visited Zimbabwe recently and got first-hand accounts of systematic intimidation, violence and torture.

"The victims identified the perpetrators as agents of the Zimbabwe Armed Forces, the Police, the Central Intelligence Organization (C.I.O), War Veterans, Youth Militia and plain thugs", he said.

The human rights abuses are visited not only upon those thought to have voted for the opposition, but also on those who assisted the election process, such as polling officers, say human rights activists.

The Archbishop added: "This reign of terror, has seen many deaths, savage beatings and flight from family, homes and communities. Human dignity is intrinsic to every human being, regardless of political affiliation and must be respected. I call on all political parties to reign in their supporters and end this horror."

Tlhagale has argued for the immediate deployment of international election observers to assess preparation for the run-off election, whose date is yet to be announced.

He said: "I call on all Zimbabweans to remember the hope with which they entered the March elections, so well expressed in the call by civil society in the document 'The Zimbabwe we want' and to do all in their power to restore Zimbabwe to its rightful place in the family of nations."

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