, HARARE, May 20 – Zimbabwe’s ruling party on Tuesday dismissed as fantasy opposition claims that President Robert Mugabe’s military intelligence was plotting to assassinate its leadership ahead of a run-off election.
As Mugabe’s government was urged to accept African Union monitors to ensure the vote scheduled for next month passes off peacefully, ministers accused the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his top lieutenant of trying to stir up trouble and assured them they had no reason to fear for their safety.
Tsvangirai’s camp meanwhile refused to be drawn on when his long-awaited return home could now be expected after his decision at the weekend to remain in South Africa after an alleged assassination plot was discovered.
"The allegations by the (Morgan) Tsvangirai-led MDC have no foundation whatsoever except in his own dreams," Nathan Shamuyarira, spokesman for the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Popular Front, told state media.
"He is dreaming things that are not existent in Zimbabwe. No one in ZANU-PF or the government has any intention of killing him.
"The problem with Tsvangirai is that his statements are directed at big powers in Europe and North America in an attempt to influence them to give him more money and support."
Tsvangirai, who fell just short of an overall majority in a first round of voting on March 29 and must now contest a run-off next month, has spent most of the time since out of the country trying to build up diplomatic support.
In an interview with AFP in Nairobi on Monday, MDC secretary general Tendai Biti said Tsvangirai had cancelled his plans after the party received credible intelligence that he was at the top of a hit list comprising dozens of names.
Deputy information minister Bright Matonga however said such a claim was "just madness".
"It’s one of those wild claims that we have come to expect from Biti. There was never and will never be such a plot," Matonga told AFP.
"No-one in his right mind would draw up such a list which would mean eliminating the entire MDC leadership. The majority of the MDC national executive purportedly targetted … are still in this country."
Asked on Tuesday when Tsvangirai now planned to return, the MDC’s chief spokesman Nelson Chamisa said: "Mr Tsvangirai is coming back but we cannot say when. All I can say is it will be soon."
The MDC says 43 of its supporters have been killed in an upsurge of violence since the original polling day and 5,000 families have been displaced as part of an organised campaign of intimidation in the build-up to the run-off.
In an open letter to the chairman of the African Union commission Jean Ping, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said his organisation should send election observers and human rights monitors to Zimbabwe to help ensure next month’s election is free and fair.
"The African Union should publicly demand that the Zimbabwean government halt its campaign of violence, torture and intimidation," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
"Unless the current situation is reversed, more civilians will be brutalized and die. The African Union’s immediate deployment of human rights monitors and observers throughout the country can help deter further abuses and save lives."
Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980, has in turn accused the MDC of terrorising members of the ruling party and parts of the rural population.
The 84-year-old has presided over the country’s demise from regional role model to economic basket case, with inflation now standing at over 165,000 percent and unemployment at around 80 percent.
Mugabe has blamed the economic meltdown on a package of targeted sanctions imposed by Western powers after he allegedly rigged his 2002 re-election