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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 February, 2004, 22:00 GMT
Zimbabwe camp commander speaks
A commander at one of Zimbabwe's notorious youth training camps has spoken to the media for the first time.

The "Youth Services Instructor" spoke freely about life in the camps to a team from the BBC Panorama programme on condition of anonymity.

He revealed that his camp some as young as 15 are taught to use weapons like guns.

"We train them how to use weapons, although we don't concentrate as soldiers but there is a period when we train them how to use those guns," he said.

The unnamed commander also told the programme that the young men and women who attend youth camps in Zimbabwe were being trained to be "useful to the ruling party during the time of need."

Misguided

We want to make sure that we don't want the opposition party to set foot in the rural areas, that is our main priority
Zimbabwe youth camp commander

He also revealed that recruits are given daily lessons in things like sovereignty, politics and history.

He added that those who run the camps try to guide the youngsters on what information to get as they can become "misguided" by a lot of the independent information available.

The commander claimed that recruits to the camps were often used to disrupt the activities of opposition parties in the run up to elections in Zimbabwe.

He said: "Next year is an election time in this country so these guys are going to be used by the ruling party.

"Although it's a government institution the party benefits from these guys because they sometimes use them to deal with some situations involving politics.

Corporal punishment

"We want to make sure that we don't want the opposition party to set foot in the rural areas, that is our main priority. In fact they will never set foot there during this coming election."

The camp commander conceded that stories of rapes being carried out in the camps were true, saying "it happens here and there", but claimed that the problem is not as bad as it used to be.

He also added that such matters were dealt with within the camps, sometimes with the use of "some corporal punishments".

Senior staff in the camp took this course of action because it "cannot seen to be exposing it (the ruling Zanu PF party) negatively so it may be like you are washing dirty linen in public so these are things which we deal with inside."

Duty

The commander, who had grave reservations about taking part in the interview because he thought it may be a trap set by Zimbabwe's intelligence services, also revealed he was hoping to get a promotion.

He defended his role in the camps by saying: "To me its part of my duties you see, it's part of my duties so I will be executing my duties.

"It's not on the right or wrong basis but you see our main concern is that we keep this opposition party out of power."

SEE ALSO:
Secrets of the Camps
17 Feb 04  |  Panorama
James's story
02 Mar 04  |  Panorama
The Law in Zimbabwe
29 Feb 04  |  Panorama
A day in the life of the camp
29 Feb 04  |  Panorama
Your comments
27 Feb 04  |  Panorama


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