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Page last updated at 13:50 GMT, Monday, 21 July 2008 14:50 UK

Zimbabwe opposition MPs in hiding

By Andrew Harding
BBC News, Harare

Pineal Denga, a newly-elected MP for Zimbabwe's opposition MDC party, peered out cautiously through the curtains of a safe house in Harare.

A supporter of Zimbabwe"s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) lays in hospital in Ruwa, on July 7, 2008. The man (no name given) said that men with masks attacked him.
The MDC says 27 of its members have been killed in the past three weeks.

"I'm fearing for my life," he said angrily, "that's why I'm staying in hiding."

In the last few weeks, he said, his house and office have been raided repeatedly by the police, and many of the local councillors in his Mbare constituency have been attacked by Zanu-PF militia.

"There is no justice here. I was elected by the people, but I'm being treated like a common criminal," he said.

It appears that he is not alone.

The MDC says more than 1,500 of its officials are still in prison or in police custody; 27 people have been killed in the past three weeks; and 18 MDC MPs are currently facing charges ranging from inciting political violence to treason and many of them are in hiding.

Although the levels of violence across Zimbabwe have dropped sharply since the widely condemned presidential election run-off on 27 June, there is strong evidence of a continuing state-sponsored campaign designed to disrupt and weaken the MDC itself.

Woods

Lying on his stomach in a Harare clinic, a young MDC activist winced in pain as a doctor examined the deep gashes on his buttocks.

He said he had been beaten with sticks a fortnight ago by dozens of Zanu-PF militia, after he refused to join a rally celebrating Robert Mugabe's election victory.

It is not safe for us to move
MDC official

"If I go home, I am scared they will beat me again," he said.

In the woods just outside Harare, I found 170 opposition activists and officials hiding in a makeshift camp, crammed inside a few tents.

They had been there for more than two weeks.

"It is not safe for us to move," said the group's spokesman, an MDC official who asked for his identity to remain secret for his own protection.

"Zanu-PF militia are targeting mainly councillors, winning MPs and those in the party structure who have senior positions."

Sceptical

The same morning, in the centre of Harare, Eric Matinenga was busy tidying his desk at his law office.

It was his first day back at work, after spending some three weeks in prison, charged with inciting violence.

Why are people being brutalised?
Eric Matinenga, MDC politician

The newly-elected MDC MP is one of Zimbabwe's most prominent lawyers.

"Naturally, I keep a low profile. It's a survival instinct," he said.

"But it's hard because of the nature of my job. Let's just say I don't travel at night."

Mr Matinenga acknowledged that the country was quieter now.

"Maybe it's not on the same scale," he said, "but now we have a situation where the leadership of [the MDC] structures are deliberately targeted."

As for the possibility of substantive negotiations between the MDC and Zanu-PF, Mr Matinenga was sceptical, arguing that Robert Mugabe was simply buying time.

"If Zanu-PF are genuine, why are people being brutalised?... To me, Zanu-PF simply wants further space in order to achieve what it wants."

At another safe house in Harare, I met an MDC legal secretary from a constituency just outside the city.

He said he had been on the run for three months, and was hoping to flee the country soon.

"My family is living in fear," he said.

"I'm not afraid to die, but I don't want to die. Oh God, if I could get my hands on [Zanu-PF] I would tear them apart."


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