Zimbabwe: State secret agents quiz churchmen for"misleading" UN envoy

HARARE - The Zimbabwe government's dreaded spy Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) has in the past week quizzed some clergymen, accusing them of "painting a negative picture" of the government's controversial clean-up campaign to United Nations (UN) envoy Anna Tibaijuka.

In what observers said could be early signals of a possible retribution campaign against church and civic leaders who spoke to Tibaijuka, armed police this week razed down several buildings belonging to Mutare city's mayor, Misheck Kagurabadza, who was also publicly singled out by government officials for "lying" to Tibaijuka about the clean-up drive.

Sources in the intelligence community told ZimOnline that the CIO last week summoned two senior Mutare clergymen, Michael Bennett, of the Catholic Church and acting Anglican bishop for Mutare, Eric Ruwona and quizzed them on why they gave negative reports about the clean-up operation to Tibaijuka.

During the same week, CIO agents also visited the Bulawayo offices of outspoken Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube, who has led criticism against the clean-up operation. The government spies were told the bishop was out of the country and is only expected back next month.

Bennett yesterday confirmed being summoned for questioning by the CIO but would not be drawn to give further details of what the secret service agency wanted from him. "Yes I was summoned. But it is a complex issue that I would rather not give details. But I am continuing with my work and projects though," Bennet said.

It was not possible to get a comment on the matter from Ruwona yesterday. But the sources said the bishop had told his interrogators that he had only spoken to the UN envoy as part of the church's duty to "tell the truth and help people."

According to the sources, no specific threats were made against Bennett or Ruwona when they were summoned to the CIO offices in Mutare but the well-placed sources could not rule out possible punishment against religious and civic leaders especially if Tibaijuka's report, expected in days, is harsh against Harare.

State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, under whose portfolio the CIO falls, refused to discuss the matter yesterday. "I am not going to help you," was all Mutasa would say after ZimOnline had recounted to him the interrogation of Bennett and Ruwona by the CIO and the visit to Ncube's offices by secret service agents.

UN-Habitat boss, Tibaijuka toured Zimbabwe for two weeks as a special envoy of the world body's chief Kofi Annan, to assess the impact of Harare's urban clean-up campaign that left thousands of families on the streets without food or water after the police demolished their city backyard cottages and shantytown homes.

Annan on Tuesday issued a statement expressing worry at the humanitarian crisis caused by Zimbabwe's clean-up drive in what UN experts said was indication Tibaijuka's report, expected by Friday or Monday will be devastating against Harare.

The United States, European Union, Zimbabwean and international human rights groups have roundly condemned the clean-up drive as a gross violation of human rights.

President Robert Mugabe has defended the clean-up drive as necessary to smash crime and restore the beauty of Zimbabwe's cities.

But the main Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party, which is most supported in cities, says the exercise was meant to punish urban residents for rejecting Mugabe and his government in last March's disputed election.

In Mutare, police demolished buildings worth over Z$20 million owned by Kagurabadza despite the mayor showing them detailed plans to prove the structures were legal.

Kagurabadza, who angered the government when he showed Tibaijuka several families sleeping in the open after their homes were demolished by the government, claimed he was being targeted for victimisation.

"They said the buildings were illegal despite that they are on the plan. I have been under fire since I told the UN envoy that the clean up exercise had caused a lot of suffering to the people. I also showed her families living in the open and now I am in trouble," said Kagurabadza, who is a member of the MDC. - ZimOnline