A former army brigadier, who quit Zimbabwe's Zanu-PF ruling party early this month to protest the removal of former leader Robert Mugabe, has reportedly claimed that at least 5 000 soldiers have been deployed to rural areas ahead of elections in July.
According to Daily News, Ambrose Mutinhiri, who recently formed a new political outfit, the National Patriotic Front (NPF), said this in his communique to the visiting SADC head of delegation, Leshele Thohlane.
Mutinhiri alleged that the number of military personnel, who were deployed in rural areas during the military intervention last year had dramatically increased, thus, raising fears of intimidation and an unfair election.
"The army confirms that by November 15, 2017, it had put over 2 000 of its officers and embedded them in every community in Zimbabwe, not just for the coup but for the forthcoming election. The number is now over 5 000. Zimbabwe cannot hold free, fair and credible election with over 5 000 army officers embedded in every village and street communities across the country," Mutinhiri was quoted as saying.
He urged SADC to deploy military personnel at every voting station to ensure the "election would not be stolen".
This came just a few months after the country's biggest opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, also claimed that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had deployed thousands of soldiers throughout the country's rural areas "in a sinister move to scare villagers into voting the ruling Zanu-PF".
The MDC said this as it demanded the demilitarisation of the villages.
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"The MDC is... deeply concerned by the continued militarisation of villages around the country. We have solid and incontrovertible evidence pointing to the fact that thousands of army officers in civilian attire have been deployed into the countryside for the purposes of carrying out clandestine political campaigns on behalf of Zanu-PF," read part of the statement.
Mnangagwa, 75, has, however, often indicated that Zimbabweans should brace for free, fair and credible elections.
The polls would be the first major test of the new leader, who took power in November after a de facto military coup forced the 94-year-old Mugabe to resign.
They will also be the first without Mugabe's name on the ballot since independence from Britain in 1980.