Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Zim air force chief shot

December 16 2008

Mystery surrounds the fate of Air Marshal Perence Shiri, head of Zimbabwe's air force, who is reported to have been shot.

Shiri, one of Robert Mugabe's most trusted backers, was injured while on his way to his farm on Saturday evening, police sources said on Monday.

Rumours were rife that it was an internal issue within Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, while others attributed it to a robbery attempt.

Shiri, who sits on the joint operations command that advises Mugabe, is one of the most feared soldiers in the country, having been commander of the Fifth Brigade, the North Korean-trained army that is blamed for the massacre of 20 000 mostly civilians during the 1980s Matabeleland disturbances.

Sources said he had been admitted to a military hospital.

Although there was no official confirmation on the seemingly sensitive issue, police sources confirmed that Shiri was still alive.

"We understand that he was accosted by yet unknown people who shot at his car. When he heard the gunshots, he got out thinking it was a puncture and that is when he was hit by a bullet on his elbow," said a police source.

Meanwhile, Mugabe's government railed against Western efforts to put Zimbabwe on the United Nations Security Council agenda, as deaths from a cholera epidemic inched closer to 1 000.

The United States and Britain were expected to lobby the council to turn up the heat on Mugabe, amid mounting international pressure for him to step aside as his country caves in under an economic meltdown and cholera crisis.

UN figures released on Monday showed 978 people had died of the disease, with 18 413 suspected cases reported across the country.

The United Nations Security Council was due to hold a closed-door meeting, and Washington said last week it would put pressure on members to act against the veteran leader, whom it blames directly for Zimbabwe's woes.

Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told the state-owned Herald newspaper that it was "improper" for Western countries to try to put Zimbabwe on the agenda.

"You do not convene a UN Security Council meeting for a sovereign state without consulting that country," he said.

The cholera figures came as a truck from South Africa's Red Cross bearing vital supplies to assist in treating the cholera epidemic was due to arrive, following an urgent appeal for more funds to deal with the crisis.

US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said Washington was talking to South Africa and other Security Council members about how to "start a process that will bring an end to the tragedy that is unfolding in Zimbabwe".

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change yesterday accused Mugabe's government of planning to institute a state of emergency as an excuse to disregard rule of law.

MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti said Zanu-PF was recording forced confessions from 15 MDC supporters it had abducted since October to use as fodder for implementing a state of emergency.

"We have no doubt as a party that they are going to declare a state of emergency. We are aware of a document that runs into tens of pages," Biti said in Harare.

Zimbabwe's authorities also claimed that Botswana was supporting a plot to overthrow Mugabe, labelling its neighbour a "surrogate" of Western powers.

Botswana has been the most consistently critical of Mugabe's regime, in stark contrast to the silence of Zimbabwe's other neighbours.

Botswana's foreign ministry said in a statement that Zimbabwe had failed to produce any tangible facts to support the allegations.

Zimbabwe's opposition dismissed the accusations.

However, Biti said the whole of Africa was losing patience with Mugabe.

"Africa is impatient with Zanu-PF... every African leader is sick about Zimbabwe."