Mugabe supports boycott of WC ties in Zimbabwe

Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003, 21:48 [IST]
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Johannesburg: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe would support Australia and England boycotting World Cup cricket in his country because he fears the matches might create an opportunity to assassinate him, a South African newspaper reported on Sunday. The Sunday 'Independent' reported that Mugabe told his government he did not want the English or Australian team in Zimbabwe for next month's matches because their parties might include officials plotting to kill him.

Mugabe's Cabinet had persuaded him that the matches should be allowed to go ahead, but only after giving the president assurances that he would be given increased security, the report added. Quoting Zimbabwean government sources, the newspaper said Mugabe strongly believed that Britain and other "western detractors" were working with the Zimbabwean opposition on a plot to kill him.

"The fact is that Mugabe would rather not have these people here ... he thinks after humiliating (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair at the Earth summit and after the failure of the West to remove him from power, the focus is now on killing him," an official, who declined to be named, told the daily. "He thinks British intelligence are working full-time on that." His ministers, however, told him that hosting the cricket matches would be a major diplomatic coup for Zimbabwe.

The cabinet agreed that Mugabe's spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation, could assign at least three agents to each British and Australian cricketer or official visiting the country. It also supported the bugging of the visitors' accommodation and telephone lines, and closely monitoring their movements.

The governments of Britain and Australia have called on their teams to boycott World Cup matches in Zimbabwe, but have so far stopped short of ordering the squads to withdraw. The governments argue that playing matches in Zimbabwe would be tantamount to endorsing Mugabe's regime, which stands accused of human rights abuses and rigging presidential elections in March. The cricket showpiece begins on February 8 with an opening ceremony in Cape Town. Most of the matches will be played in South Africa, but Zimbabwe will play its group matches at home, and two matches will be played in Kenya.

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