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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Zimbabwe's torturers on the run

By Alastair Leithead
BBC, Johannesburg, South Africa

They are young Zimbabweans living rough in Johannesburg, on the run from the Zimbabwean secret service and the youth force commanders who taught them violence.

Former green bombers
The green bombers are much feared
They are not wanted for the rapes, beatings, murders and arson they committed in the name of Zimbabwe's ruling party, but because they ran away and are now telling the truth about what they've been doing.

"We went to the farms and broke everything. We took livestock, machines and burned the houses. The children were raped, the small children. We raped the girls. We targeted white farmers and opposition politicians," said Themba Skhosana, who's 19.

In the last few weeks a massive government crackdown on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has seen hundreds of supporters arrested, most held without charge and then released days later - many having been beaten and tortured.

Notorious

Responsible for much of the violence is Zimbabwe's National Youth Service - what the government calls a peace corps designed to lift youngsters out of poverty, but what its former members describe as ruling Zanu-PF party military camps of teenagers being taught to beat, rape and kill.

"They used to give us beer and drugs and told us we were going to destroy farms. Also, people who were MDC were not allowed to buy food from the shops, but Zanu-PF were allowed food when they showed their card," said Andrew Moyo, also 19.

Torture victim
They took the urine from my kid and said: 'Drink it'
Patricia, MDC activist

They're notorious in the country as the "green bombers" after the uniforms they wear and the chaos that follows in their wake.

Themba Ndlovu is 22, he said they were promised money, jobs and land, but instead they were forced to attack people and burn down farms - they received nothing and were told if they ran away they would be killed.

"We used crowbars and firearms," he said. "I have not killed, but I have raped. I raped a 12 year old girl. We have attacked people from the MDC party - many people. I need to change my life - that is why I ran away from Zimbabwe.

"It is too hard living on the streets in Johannesburg. The Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Officers are looking for us and if the South African police find us they will send us back.

"If I am taken back to Zimbabwe I will be assassinated, jailed or killed. Others have been taken back from South Africa and they have just disappeared."

The boys ran away from their camps and with help from friends and relatives illegally crossed into South Africa. It's not known how many have escaped, but their accounts paint a brutal picture of state-sponsored killing and violence.

Crisis

Moses Mzila-Ndlovu is shadow foreign minister in Zimbabwe and an MDC MP - he says there has been widespread intimidation after a peaceful mass protest last month.

MDC MP Moses Mzila-Ndlovu
MP Moses Mzila-Ndlovu: People want their liberties back
"Five hundred people were arrested in a matter of two or three days soon after the mass stay-away and it shows you the level of harassment and intimidation. Two hundred and fifty of these people needed hospital treatment," he said while in South Africa.

"Whether Mugabe arrests us or not the people of Zimbabwe have become so confident and daring as to demand their civil liberties back, demand an end to this brutalisation, demand a restoration of the rule of law and to demand a legitimate government."

With the crisis taking place on Zimbabwe's doorstep and with President Thabo Mbeki currently chairing the African Union (AU), the emphasis has been put on South Africa and the region to take a harder line on Zimbabwe.

But President Mbeki said the AU "doesn't have a position on Zimbabwe". His official spokesman said he would comment on almost anything except Zimbabwe, and the department of foreign affairs also refused to be interviewed saying government policy has not changed.

That policy, in place for months now, is for "quiet diplomacy," but it doesn't appear to have had any effect on an increasing catalogue of violence and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.




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