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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 18:36 GMT
Zimbabwe defends 'secret camps'
Debbie was raped in a Zimbabwean youth camp
Zimbabwe has denied setting up secret camps to train youths how to torture and kill opposition supporters.

Youth Minister Ambrose Mutinhiri dismissed a BBC documentary on the youth camps as "unfounded rubbish".

He said the camps trained youths in technical skills, health, disaster management and entrepreneurship.

The Panorama documentary showed youths claiming they were trained to torture or kill members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

But Mr Mutinhiri said everything in the camps was above-board.

'Horrific training'

"The [camps] programme focuses on mental decolonisation of our youths and brings back their dignity as a people," he said.

Mr Mutinhiri said the camps were purely voluntary and very popular among young people in Zimbabwe.

Police arresting unionists last November
The Zimbabwe authorities have cracked down on dissent
According to the government, more than 18,000 young people have gone through the camps since they were launched in 2001.

Former recruits to the camps who spoke to Panorama said the horrific training encouraged them to commit atrocities.

Members of the youth militia are warned never to tell of their experiences inside the camps, and many refuse to be identified when talking about their experiences, Panorama reported.

A girl, Debbie, claimed she was kidnapped and forced into a camp - where she was raped on her very first night.

"I was raped at night and they said no one can complain because its part of training," she said.

Mr Mutinhiri dismissed claims that female trainees were raped, saying they were safely accommodated in their own hostels "cordoned off with a razor-wire fence" and guarded by watchmen.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"For now the president has an iron grip on Zimbabwe's politics"

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