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Home | ZimCrisis -- Zimbabwe's Paid Assassins

Date: Wed, 31 May 2000 01:06:23 -0700
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From: Zimbabwe Crisis
Subject: ZimCrisis -- Zimbabwe's Paid Assassins
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Marie Colvin, Checheche, Zimbabwe

A campaign of terror code named Operation Tsuro is being mounted with the specific approval of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president, against opponents of his regime.

Henchmen of the ruling Zanu-PF party in the operation are promised payment on a sliding scale, from 379 for killing an opposition member to 117 for burning a house.

Operation Tsuro was named after the hare, which, in Zimbabwe, is considered smart and fast. Young party members are selected by their local branches and sent for seven days of training and indoctrination at the King George VI (KG6) army barracks in Harare. They are taught assassination skills and paramilitary manoeuvres.

They are then sent out at night in small squads to kill members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) or burn their houses. Twenty-three people have died in political violence in the run-up to elections called for June 24 and 25, including four white farmers who were known to have supported the MDC.

Tsuro recruits are sent into action far from their homes so that they will not be recognised or constrained by social or tribal rules. Rewards are offered in the chilling language of a killer accountant.

The 379 is earned only if the opposition member is murdered "on directive" from the party leadership. A civil servant qualifies for an initial fee of 69 if he agrees to spy on fellow employees in the hunt for MDC sympathisers, and gets another 34 for each person denounced.

The details were disclosed by Bright Salani, a teacher in his forties who was recruited in his home town of Checheche, near Zimbabwe's border with Mozambique. Police in Checheche, working with Zanu-PF, arrested him hours before he was due to meet me yesterday to discuss Operation Tsuro. Party members had searched his house on Friday, accusing him of being a traitor. Salani feared he would be held or killed, so left a written statement. He also told a friend about his experience.

"Bright was talking like he was haunted," said his friend. "He called the operation 'the killing project'."

Salani, a war veteran who teaches at Garawha secondary school, was recruited as a card- carrying Zanu-PF member and activist. He also spied on fellow teachers. But after his experiences in KG6, he began to have doubts, and agreed to reveal the organised campaign of atrocities.

It was known that the occupation of farms and the intimidation of MDC supporters had been ordered at a high level and implemented by the state security services after voters rejected Mugabe's proposed constitutional reform in February.

But Salani's story shows it is directly orchestrated by the president, who was described last week by Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth secretary-general, as a man who wanted to stop the violence and ensure free and fair elections. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Some of the activities at KG6 were banal. Recruits would chant Zanu-PF slogans and take breaks for tea and meals of sadza (maize porridge) and meat. Other activities were not.

They were shown how to stab someone in the chest and advised to throw their knife in a river or sewerage drain so that it could not be traced. The recruits were also given instructions on burning the homes of opponents.

Mugabe himself was the speaker at their "graduation" ceremony at the Sheraton hotel in Harare. His words left them in no doubt as to their duty.

According to Salani, the president said in Shona: "When we are speaking of the struggle, we are talking about killing people so the country can be free."

He referred to Zimbabwe's fight for independence, won in 1980, and added: "Now we are at war again... If one of you is asked why you are killing, you say it is not us, it is the president. But behave like hares. The baboons have a big build, but the hares are more clever."

Life at the barracks was regimented. After instruction during the day, Salani and other Zanu-PF recruits carried out several operations at night.

"When we were told to burn a house, six of us got into a pickup truck," Salani said. "The driver alone knew the address. One member had a petrol container; the most senior member carried a gun. The rest had knives or clubs.

"The man with the gun knocked on the door. The rest of us had to surround the house. When the house owners came out, we went in, escorting the petrol-carrier."

Salani said they doused every room, poured the petrol out to the front gate, and then lit it.

He believes he took part in the killing of seven MDC members during his stay in Harare, and their bodies were dumped in the Mukuvisi river or in sewers. They never said the word kill: they used the code "Tsuro Four", which meant assassinate, he said.

It was one of these operations that led to Salani's return to Checheche. He and his group were about to dump a body when the victim suddenly jumped up. He slashed at Salani's face and escaped.

To compensate for his injury, the Zanu-PF leadership promised to give Salani and five friends who had also taken part a diesel-run mill for maize. But his dreams of a small business ended with his arrest.

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Brief list of helpful sites on the issue:
- Comprehensive news updates -- http://www.1freespace.com/beetee
- Offers of and requests for help for Zimbabweans -- http://pub9.ezboard.com/boffersofhelp
- Commercial Farmers' Union -- http://www.mweb.co.zw/cfu
- Movement for Democratic Change -- http://www.in2zw.com/mdc
- Zimbabwe Democracy Trust -- http://www.zimbabwedemocracytrust.org
- BSAP Pursuit of Zimbabwean Criminals -- http://www.bsaphq.f9.co.uk