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Bennett Arrest No Sign Of "Unity"

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Less than three weeks after an agreement to form a transitional government to end the nation's debilitating political impasse, Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF party is up to its old repressive tricks.

In just one example, Roy Bennett, a senior official in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, was named to serve as deputy agriculture minister in the new unity government. Before he could be sworn in, he was arrested instead on trumped up charges of banditry and attempting to commit terrorism.

Defense lawyers argue that the charges, which relate to an incident three years ago, do not involve Mr. Bennett. Meanwhile, a judge hearing the case was replaced after he was accused of being an interested party. Nevertheless, the court rejected a motion to drop the charges and a trial is set for next month.

The government of President Robert Mugabe has a long, sad history of such prosecutions, aimed at intimidating its critics. Mr. Bennett joins the ranks of human rights activists Jestina Mukoko and Jenni Williams, US Embassy Harare employee Frank Muchirahondo, and journalists, humanitarians, opposition supporters and civil society members who are languishing in Zimbabwe’s prisons for political reasons or who continue to face dubious charges. Still others remain missing following their abduction by suspected security agents. These actions undermine the spirit of the unity accord and dampen the hopes of the millions suffering as a result of Zimbabwe’s man-made humanitarian crisis.

Mr. Bennett, a successful coffee farmer, may have much to offer his country in his new post. Zimbabwe, once a breadbasket of Africa, now must import massive amounts of food to feed itself, and restoring national food production is one of the nation's greatest challenges.

The arrest also sends a strong signal to the international community that it is right to question the sincerity of Mr. Mugabe and his allies in the new order. Instead of fulfilling the mandate to rebuild the nation's economy and stop the oppression that the Zimbabwean people gave in last year's presidential and parliamentary elections, recent police action threatens to move the government in the opposite direction.