Zimbabwe's MDC: ‘Arson attack’ must be investigated

A Zimbabwean votes in the 2008 election
Image caption A referendum on the new constitution is due next month

The death of the 12-year-old son of an MDC activist in Zimbabwe in an alleged arson attack should be properly investigated by police, Deputy Justice Minister Obert Gutu has told the BBC.

Mr Gutu, an MDC member, blamed known supporters of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party for the fire on Saturday.

The attack did not bode well for next month's referendum or elections later in the year, Mr Gutu said.

A Zanu-PF spokesman said the attack was an attempt to discredit his party.

Earlier, the deputy police chief told MPs there was no evidence of arson.

Zanu-PF and the MDC, of Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai, formed a coalition government four years ago after disputed elections.

Mr Tsvangirai had pulled out of a run-off vote in June 2008 accusing the security forces of unleashing violence against his supporters.

'Ready to take action'

According to the MDC, the roof a hut in the homestead of aspiring MDC parliamentary candidate Shepherd Maisiri in the eastern farming district of Headlands was set alight on Saturday night.

His son Christpower, who was asleep in a nearby hut, woke up and saved his younger siblings from the burning building, but he died in the blaze, MDC officials say.

"It is more than correct to say that it was a politically motivated arson attack," Mr Gutu told the BBC's Newsday programme.

"Obviously the people who perpetrated the attack are local people - their names are known, where they stay is known, it is just not a secret that it is actually a Zanu-PF operation,"

"It's not the first time Shepherd has been targeted for assassination; it is not the first time that Shepherd has been told by Zanu-PF activists and by very senior Zanu-PF operatives that his life was in danger and that they were going to kill him so this can only be linked to political violence," he said, calling for the police to carry out a thorough investigation.

Image caption Prime Minister Tsvangirai (L) and President Mugabe have been in a fractious coalition for four years

Mr Maisiri, who was away from home campaigning when the fire happened, told Zimbabwe's SW radio station that his life was last threatened on Friday by two people.

"Barely 24 hours later my homestead is attacked again and this time my son dies in the inferno. It is clear who the culprits are and I've told the police all the names."

Innocent Matibiri, the deputy police commissioner, told a parliamentary committee on Monday that it was news to him that the fire was a result of arson.

"If you have any evidence that it is arson I'm sure we will be more than ready to take action; we have no evidence whatsoever that the incident has happened as a result of arson," he said.

Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo blamed the fire on the MDC.

"The information we have from the ground and the information we're getting from the police is that it is an MDC perpetrated thing in order to discredit Zanu-PF," he told the BBC.

The deputy justice minister said the Headlands attack was not an isolated case: "There have been a lot of other incidents - we've got people disappearing, for instance in my own constituency here in Harare East, one of our local city officials disappeared exactly a week ago - Stuart Wutawunashe is still missing.

"I don't see a free and fair election at this rate."

But Mr Gumbo said it was part of the MDC's strategy to "create a picture of a violent situation in the country".

"They also want to mobilise their sponsors in the United States, in Britain, in Europe that when the results come out, which will show that Zanu-PF has won, they'll say the elections were not free and fair. But it's not going to work."

The first poll will be the referendum on 16 March, when voters will decide on the fate of new constitution, agreed by both Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai.

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