HARARE - Zimbabwe remains blanketed in a climate of fear because of continuing political violence as the country's political leaders bicker over sharing of key Cabinet posts in a proposed unity government, a local human rights group has said.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) said in its latest report released this week that cases of political violence and human rights abuses shot up 39 percent from August to September - ironically the same month Zimbabwe's political leaders agreed to bury the hatchet and join hands in a unity government.
The rights group said: "Violence toll increased by 39 percent from its August level of 964 to 1336 by September with incidents of murder, rape, kidnapping, assault, looting, harassment, displacements . . . maintaining a disturbing visibility after the signing of the 15 September power-sharing Agreement.
The ZPP noted that September violence shifted to more extreme forms of violence and abuse with seven murders, five rapes and 20 cases of abduction recorded in the month - a situation it said was "at odds with the spirit of unity and reconciliation enshrined in the power-sharing deal".
The rights group said there was noticeable fear across the country: "Two strands of fear are noticeable in all the 10 provinces; the traditional fear (by victims) of further retribution and the new fear of guilty where those associated with the perpetration of violence are afraid of possible investigations and arrests.
"In all provinces freedom of expression is still curtailed with people reportedly assaulted for publicly expressing their opinions on the causes of the economic meltdown (or for) celebrating the signing of the (power-sharing) deal."
President Robert Mugabe, opposition MDC leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara agreed to form an all-inclusive government under a power-sharing deal that retains Mugabe as president while making Tsvangirai prime minister and Mutambara deputy prime minister.
Analysts see such a power-sharing government as the first step to ending decade-long food shortages and economic crisis in Zimbabwe. But seven weeks after agreeing to share power the political rivals are yet to form a unity government because they cannot agree on who should control the most powerful ministries.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) prepares to hold an emergency summit next Sunday to try to coax the Zimbabwean adversaries to reach agreement on the composition of the unity government.
Political analysts remain pessimistic that Sunday's regional summit will be able to break the power-sharing deadlock, saying SADC lacks the collective will to force Mugabe to compromise with his main rival Tsvangirai.
The ZPP said as leaders wrangled over political power, their supporters on the ground remained intolerant of each other, particularly pro-Mugabe war veterans who the rights group said were moving around telling people that the ruling ZANU PF party would never agree to form a unity government with the MDC.
"There is a business as usual, indifferent attitude to the 15 September agreement in all the 10 provinces with war veterans reportedly openly downplaying the possibility of an all-inclusive government with the MDC factions whom they still refer to as sell-outs," the ZPP said.
In addition to being subjected to violence and abuse, MDC supporters were also being denied government-supplied food aid as punishment for backing the opposition, according to the ZPP.
Meanwhile the Tsvangirai-led MDC accused ZANU PF of unleashing "a new orgy of brutality and assaults" against its supporters and said by this action Mugabe's party had unilaterally put a "full stop" to negotiations on forming a government.
"In short ZANU PF has killed the dialogue despite the hopes, patience and expectations of the people of Zimbabwe. The bottom line is that ZANU PF must be upfront with the Zimbabwean people and openly bury the corpse of these talks," the opposition party said in a statement.
There was no immediate reaction from ZANU PF to the charges by the MDC.