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Zimbabwe Frees Alleged Coup Plotters, Spies

December 5, 1986

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ The government freed five detainees Thursday, including wartime guerrilla chief Dumiso Dabengwa, in a move to end a four-year insurgency and unify the two biggest political parties.

Also released were two whites, Phillip Hartlebury, 36 and Collin Evans, 31, former Zimbabwe intelligence officers jailed for five years as alleged South African spies.

Home Affairs Minister Enos Nkala said he freed Dabengwa and two other aides of opposition leader Joshua Nkomo in hopes ″they will help to bring about peaceful conditions ... before the total integration of the two political parties.″

The others are Dobani Nsingo and Norman Zikhali.

The announcement came as Prime Minister Robert Mugabe prepared to merge his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union with Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union after a year of talks. The two men fielded rival armies in a seven-year war that transformed the former white-ruled British colony of Rhodesia to black-ruled Zimbabwe.

Dabengwa, Nkomo’s top aide and wartime intelligence chief, was hailed by supporters as a hero in the struggle that brought independence 1980.

But he was arrested a year later on charges of plotting a coup. He also was accused of directing from his prison cell the activities of rebels in southern Matabeleland province who have killed and maimed hundreds of people, mostly government officials and supporters of Mugabe.

Detentions of Nkomo’s supporters were a major obstacle to unifying the parties, a move Mugabe considers necessary to achieve his avowed aim of creating a one-party state in this Western-style democracy.

Dabengwa told reporters he would go along with unity efforts, but denied he had assured Nkala that he would help end rebel activities.

″We never deserved to have been in detention at all and have never participated in banditry or destabilizing activities,″ Dabengwa said. ″We are coming out as free citizens ... with no conditions at all.″

Nkala said 241 other political prisoners have been freed this year and that 31 people, whom he called South African spies and saboteurs, remained in detention.

He gave no reason for freeing Hartlebury and Evans, who were in jail five years, insisting ″we remain convinced that they were working for South Africa.″

He said the United States, Britain and other countries had pressed for their freedom.

″We want to create conditions of peace and relax some of our rigid laws, so we have taken the gamble of releasing them,″ Nkala said.

Both men hold British passports and flew to London later Thursday with their wives and children.

A British spokesman here said their release ″solves a longstanding consular problem between us and Zimbabwe.″

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