bennett on trial

HARARE - Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's ally, Roy Bennett, went on trial yesterday accused of terrorism in a case that has stoked tensions in the unity government of Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

After initial argument, the trial was adjourned to today by high court Judge Muchineripi Bhunu to allow time to consider applications made by the state and defence.

Bennett, whom Tsvangirai wants to bring into the government, was arrested in February and charged with illegally possessing arms to commit acts of terrorism, banditry and insurgency, charges that carry a possible death penalty.

The state brought several cases of ammunition and rifles to be presented as evidence into the court in Harare yesterday.

"This is a very serious matter which must be awarded the amount of seriousness it demands," Zimbabwe's attorney-general Johannes Tomana told the court.

Bhunu will rule tomorrow on a state application to dismiss Bennett's defence outline after state lawyers argued it was improperly presented. He will also rule on an application by the defence to stop a key state witness from testifying.

A tense-looking Bennett sat in the dock, at times with his head bowed.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the case is politically motivated and the party briefly boycotted the unity government after Bennett, a white former coffee farmer, was detained in prison following his indictment for trial.

Bennett, the MDC treasurer, has denied the charges and the party says the case was designed to stop him from becoming deputy agriculture minister.

The MDC says Mugabe is frustrating efforts to swear in Bennett, along with other senior MDC officials, as required by a political agreement signed last year between the rival parties.

A senior Tsvangirai aide said Mugabe had previously told the former opposition leader that Bennett's nomination was "provocative", especially after an often violent land seizure drive that saw white commercial farmers, including Bennett, losing their land.

Tsvangirai said on Sunday his party would stay in the government and challenge Zanu-PF to implement the power-sharing deal. - Reuters