A top Zimbabwe army general called on the nation’s soldiers to vote for Robert Mugabe in a presidential run-off or quit the military, the official media reported today.
Army Chief of Staff Major General Martin Chedondo told troops at a target shooting competition to leave the military if they did not support Mr Mugabe, the state Herald newspaper reported.
“Soldiers are not apolitical. Only mercenaries are apolitical. We have signed up and agreed to fight and protect the ruling party’s principles of defending the revolution. If you have other thoughts, then you should remove that uniform,” he was quoted as saying.
He told soldiers at the Cleveland shooting range outside Harare on Friday that Mr Mugabe was head of the nation’s defence forces.
“We should therefore stand behind our Commander in Chief,” he reportedly said.
In the past, the country’s generals, mostly veterans of the bush war that led to independence from Britain in 1980, have vowed never to salute Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, if he became president.
In a report released on Wednesday, the respected International Crisis Group said that senior military commanders opposed to Mr Tsvangirai were instrumental in preventing a democratic transition after the March 29 election.
The opposition party won a majority in parliament and Mr Tsvangirai won the presidential race, though not by an absolute majority.
The crisis group warned that there was a “growing risk of a coup” either before the June 27 presidential run-off as a pre-emptive move to deny Mr Tsvangirai victory, or after a Tsvangirai win.
The think-tank called for urgent mediation to “address the loyalty of the security services as a priority, including the handover of military power in a transitional government arrangement”.
Mr Chedondo repeated claims by Mr Mugabe that Mr Tsvangirai’s party was backed by Britain and its Western allies in a bid to regain “imperialist” influence in the southern African nation.
“The willingness to serve the country ... should burn forever so that the country does not slip away,” Mr Chedondo said.
He said troops were being deployed across the nation to help police curb political violence before the run-off between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai.
Independent human rights groups have accused police and soldiers of taking part in state-orchestrated violence against government opponents – charges army officials have denied.
Mr Tsvangirai’s party says at least 50 of its supporters have been killed and tens of thousands displaced from their homes in violence since the first round of voting on March 29.
The Movement for Democratic Change party convened what it called a session of parliament Friday and declared itself as Zimbabwe’s new ruling party, in defiance of Mr Mugabe.
In what he described as a “state of the nation” address, Mr Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe was about to witness “a new and different era of governance”.
The opposition won 110 seats in the 210-seat parliament in the elections, giving it control of the legislature for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980. Mr Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party won 97 and three by-elections are pending.