Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy in the capital Harare, after announcing Sunday he is withdrawing from the country's presidential election runoff because of what he has called President Robert Mugabe's "campaign of violence," against voters.
The Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed today Tsvangirai's whereabouts.
Tsvangirai charged that government-sponsored youth militias and bands of self-proclaimed "war veterans" have stepped up attacks on opposition supporters in an attempt to persuade them to "vote correctly" in the elections, scheduled for Friday.
It's estimated that at least 86 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced since the country's first elections in March when Tsvagirai's Movement for Democratic Change party narrowly defeated Mugabe, triggering the runoff. In the weeks since, the violence has continued to grow bloodier, with Mugabe declaring that the bullet is mightier than the pen and that he will declare war before handing over power.
Tsvangirai's decision to step down is receiving a mixed reaction in Zimbabwe. Most civil society groups have called it smart, saying it will spare lives and put pressure on the international community to intervene and stop the current bloodshed. But thousands of Zimbabweans who have already experienced the violence are wondering what recourse they have if they no longer have anyone to vote for.
The following is one family's story as told to a researcher from Harvard Law School who's conducting interviews with victims of Zimbabwe's violence. For his safety, we have changed all names in this account.
Until recently, the perpetrators of violence have operated primarily in rural areas. However, in June, violence entered the cities. Two low-income suburbs of Harare, Epworth and Mbare, have been particularly hard hit. Suspected MDC supporters living in those areas have been threatened, beaten and violently driven from their homes. Many have been killed.
Two weeks ago, I was collecting information on the outbreak of violence in Harare when Malvin, a 37-year-old father of three from Epworth, entered the office where I was working. He was accompanied by his brother-in-law Fanuel. The previous night the two men had seen their homes burned and Malvin's wife, children and sister abducted. Malvin explained what happened:
"I was asleep in my house at midnight. About 10 men in a white twin-cab pickup truck came to the house. They had metal rods, catapults and hammers. They banged on the door of my house. I was able to break a window in the back and jump out. Fanuel also managed to escape."
The two men ran and hid in bushes behind the house. Malvin did not recognize the attackers, whom he perceived to be members of a youth militia loyal to Zanu-PF, Zimbabwe's ruling party. He was sure that they had been shipped in from another district. "In Epworth, the Zanu-PF people don't have vehicles," he said.
The attackers moved next door where Malvin's wife and sister, a widow, were sleeping with their children. The men watched as the youths dragged the women and children from their home and placed them in the back of the pickup truck. The women were pinned to the bed of the truck and beaten as their children clung to them.