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1979: Joy as guerrillas fly in to Rhodesia

A group of 96 Patriotic Front guerrillas have arrived in the Rhodesian capital of Salisbury to a rapturous welcome.

The soldiers have been flown in from Lusaka, Zambia, the base from where they have fought a decade-long civil war against the minority white government of former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith.

They will join about 1,500 peacekeeping troops from across the Commonwealth, as well as government soldiers from the Rhodesian Security Force, to monitor the ceasefire which starts at midnight on 28 December.

The ceasefire is part of the Lancaster House agreement, signed last week in London after three months of negotiating.

The agreement paves the way to black majority rule in Southern Rhodesia, while enshrining white minority rights.

Return to British rule

As a first step towards the transfer of power, the new British governor of Southern Rhodesia, Lord Soames, returned the country to British rule on 12 December.

The move brought to an end Ian Smith's "internal settlement" under which the country was governed by moderate black Prime Minister Bishop Abel Muzorewa. The settlement was widely discredited after it failed to stop the fighting.

The ceasefire monitoring force is the next step towards ending the guerrilla war ahead of elections planned for next year.

The two armed groups which make up the Patriotic Front flew in separately to take part. First to arrive were 52 members of the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (Zipra), led by Joshua Nkomo.

Later, 44 members of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) flew in.

'The boys are back in town'

Their arrival was eagerly awaited by more than 7,000 Patriotic Front supporters who had gathered at the airport early this morning.

Some came by bus or car, while others walked the several miles from the city to the airport.

Many carried banners, while others gave Black Power salutes. They shouted slogans like "Welcome home comrades" and "The boys are back in town".

There were unruly scenes as a group of supporters tried to break down a 7ft (2.13m) high security fence to mob the busload of guerrillas. Police used guard dogs and batons to beat them back.

The leader of the Zipra group, Lookout Masuku, told reporters that he was "very happy to be home".

He promised that he and his supporters would abide by the conditions of the ceasefire, and said he believed it would work.

Lord Soames visited some of the ceasefire monitoring troops at a transit camp near Salisbury airport yesterday, and warned that some Patriotic Front guerrillas are expected to ignore the ceasefire.

"We expect the majority of the guerrillas to come in, but not the hardcore ones," he said.

In Context
The first job of the ceasefire monitoring force was to oversee the registration of rebel soldiers still fighting in the Rhodesian bush.

All guerrillas were guaranteed passage to an assembly point so that they could register themselves and their weapons.

Over the seven days allowed for registration, more than 22,000 troops marched in to the 16 assembly points - thousands more than had been expected.

Most owned nothing more than the clothes they stood up in. Many did not even wear boots.

The following year, Southern Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe, and became independent as a member of the Commonwealth.

Elections took place in 1980, and Robert Mugabe won an outright majority for the Patriotic Front.

He has held power ever since, but his increasingly dictatorial style in recent years has been a major source of concern to Western governments and human rights campaigners.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002 after President Mugabe's controversial re-election. The country left the organisation altogether in December 2003.


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