Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 14:24 UK

Key role for Mugabe's security chiefs

By Joseph Winter
BBC News

Ahead of Zimbabwe's presidential run-off in June, several diplomats and opposition figures said the country was effectively being run by a military junta.

Commissioner general of the Zimbabwe police, Augustine Chihuri, right, addresses a press conference, as the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Constantine Chiwenga, second from right, Air Force chief Perence Shiri
Have these three men taken control of the country?
Human rights groups say the military was behind a campaign of violence against opposition activists and supporters ahead of the 27 June presidential run-off in Zimbabwe.

The army has denied these reports but security chiefs have played a political role since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980.

President Robert Mugabe came to power following a guerrilla war and those who took part in that conflict went on to take the top positions in both political and military spheres.

The former comrades remain united through the ruling party, Zanu-PF.

And while much of the Western criticism of Zimbabwe's government is aimed personally at Mr Mugabe, in truth he cannot ignore the wishes of those standing in the shadows behind his throne - the security chiefs.

'Graceful exit'

In the days immediately after the 29 March general elections, Harare was abuzz with rumours that Mr Mugabe knew he had lost and would stand down.

There was talk of negotiations with the opposition to ensure he would be allowed a "graceful exit".

We will not allow any puppets to take charge
Augustin Chihuri
Police chief

But then the ruling Zanu-PF party seemed to stiffen its resolve and vowed to take part in a second round, with Mr Mugabe as its candidate.

Numerous reports suggest it was the leaders of Zimbabwe's police, army and prison services, who persuaded Mr Mugabe to stand firm, despite getting fewer votes than Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

These negotiations took place while the release of official results was put on hold.

Then came the reports that MDC activists around the country were being assaulted, their houses set on fire, some abducted and killed.

The violence seems to be systematic - known MDC figures targeted in rural constituencies which voted the "wrong" way - certainly consistent with military-style planning, rather than spontaneous political violence.


In the run-up to the March elections, army commander General Constatine Chiwenga, police chief Augustine Chihuri and prisons service head Retired Major-General Paradzayi Zimondi all said they would only serve Mr Mugabe, not any "puppet" - the president's favourite term for the opposition.

While ordinary police officers and soldiers are feeling the consequences of Zimbabwe's economic collapse, their superiors are reportedly telling them they must all vote for Zanu-PF.

Zimbabwean independence fighters
Many of those who fought for independence now run Zimbabwe
And many members of the security forces have benefited from the redistribution of white-owned land in recent years.

They may also be at the front of the queue of those to be given shares taken from foreign businesses - a plan that Mr Mugabe announced just before the election.

But former Zimbabwean Lieutenant Colonel Martin Rupiya told the BBC that "a large section" of the security forces remained loyal to Mr Mugabe, sharing his political convictions and global outlook.

Mr Rupiya, now at South Africa's Institute of Security Studies, dismisses those who say that security officials have been bought off with land.

"I would not for one moment consider that that would be a payment to keep their loyalty," he said.

He estimates that 20-30% of the security forces are "politicised".

"The rest are suffering with the people," he said.

Land struggle

Gen Chiwenga, Commander Chihuri and Maj Zimondi all fought colonial rule, along with Mr Mugabe.

They are reported to be at the forefront of the campaign of violence, through the Joint Operations Command (JOC).

The feared secret police, the Central Intelligence Organisation, will also be closely involved.

Supporter of Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe bases his manifesto on the struggle for land

Another key organisation is the Zimbabwe National Liberation war Veterans' Association, which has become a Zanu-PF militia.

The association's leaders retain links to their former comrades, even if they now recruit younger people to carry out much of the actual violence.

The fight to reclaim land taken from black farmers was one reason why many Zimbabweans joined the war.

Thirty years later, Mr Mugabe and his allies say the UK is trying to use the opposition to oust him to reverse his land redistribution - a move they are determined to resist at any cost.

"We will not allow any puppets to take charge," Mr Chihuri said two weeks before the March elections.

"Most of us in here are truly owners of the land," he told a group of police officers.

"This is the sovereignty we should defend at all costs because for us to get at this point others had to lose their lives. At this point, our gains should never be reversed."

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