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1983: Nkomo flees Zimbabwe 'death threats'
The embattled leader of Zimbabwe's opposition party, Joshua Nkomo, has flown into London as his country appears to be teetering on the brink of civil war.

Mr Nkomo, leader of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) party, says he was forced to flee from Zimbabwe because his life was in danger. Troops from the Fifth Brigade have sealed off his power base in the Ndebele people's stronghold of Bulawayo.

It is absolutely vital that everything is done to try to solve the problem of that country
Joshua Nkomo
Ethnic tensions between the Ndebele and Shona tribes within Zimbabwe have been rising since President Robert Mugabe accused Mr Nkomo of attempting to overthrow his government last year.

Mr Nkomo told a news conference, held at midnight in Bulawayo last Sunday (a week ago), the soldiers had been sent to assassinate him. He also claimed the North Korean-trained troops had killed his chauffeur and ransacked his home.

He has previously denounced the Fifth Brigade as a "political army" because they are mostly made up of Shona tribesmen supporting the ruling Zanu-PF party.

The day after his news conference, he fled - first to Botswana by crossing a deserted part of the border in a Land Rover. The Botswana Government issued a brief statement saying Mr Nkomo had temporarily left Zimbabwe to try to resolve the country's problems.

He was clearly not welcome in Botswana and travelled to South Africa, to take a plane from Johannesburg to Heathrow airport.

The 66-year-old veteran was questioned for an hour by officials at Heathrow airport before he was allowed into the country. He has been told his stay is only temporary.

His arrival will be an embarrassment to the British Government, which is anxious to maintain good relations with the Zimbabwe government of Robert Mugabe.

Despite being ordered not to get involved in political activities, Mr Nkomo immediately held a news conference at Heathrow.

"It is absolutely vital that everything is done to try to solve the problem of that country and be able to minimise the violence that has now found us in this grave situation," he said.

"There is nothing that will make me not go back to that country."

Zimbabwe's information minister insisted Mr Nkomo's safety was assured - but said meaningful talks could happen only if he returned to Harare.

Mr Nkomo's outspoken comments are likely to enhance his position as the partriarch of black nationalism in Zimbabwe.

Zipra - the military wing of Zapu - is believed to be regrouping in Matabeleland against Mr Mugabe's government.

Hundreds of men are said to have left their homes in the past few weeks to join up. There is little doubt they have access to large quantities of arms.

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Head shot of Joshua Nkomo
Joshua Nkomo flees from Zimbabwe to London



In Context
Nkomo returned to Zimbabwe to fight in the country's first post-independence elections in 1980.

His party lost to Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF, but in an effort at healing past rivalries, his Zapu party was invited to join a coalition government and he became Home Affairs minister.

In 1982, Zapu was accused of hatching a plot to overthrow the government and Mr Nkomo was fired.

Mistrust between the two sides escalated to the point where Mr Nkomo was forced into exile.

The two rivals finally settled their differences in 1987 when Mr Nkomo became one of two vice presidents.

Many in Matabeleland saw him as having sold out. Despite his deteriorating health he kept up the attacks on whites for not becoming assimilated as true Zimbabweans.

He died in 1999.

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