Police discover weapons cache in eastern Zimbabwe

Police discovered a weapons cache in eastern Zimbabwe and linked it to a little known opposition group, state radio reported Wednesday.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, submachine guns, tear gas and military radio equipment, were allegedly stored by a former army officer identified as Michael Hitschmann, who the radio said claimed to be a member of the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement.

British-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell announced the formation of Zimbabwe Freedom Movement, which he called an armed rebel movement, at a November 2003 news conference in London. Tatchell said he had no connection with the group and was only acting as its messenger.

Tatchell also said the group, which has not been heard from since the 2003 news conference, had no connection to the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change and received no aid from outside Zimbabwe.

The MDC has repeatedly denied recruiting insurgents or plotting violent action against the government. But Wednesday, state radio linked Hitschmann to MDC figures.

Hitschmann served in the military of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence in 1980. After independence, Hitschmann, belonged to a military reserve unit used by the Zimbabwe government to patrol the mountainous eastern border district to stop infiltration by Mozambican guerrillas of the RENAMO organization fighting in the Mozambique civil war.

A decade later, he headed the Zimbabwe Wildlife Society, a conservation group, but was ousted in an internal dispute among members. He is aged in his 50s, speaks English with a strong German accent and once described himself as a "street fighter" and seasoned bush tracker.

State radio said Hitschmann was arrested late Monday in the border city of Mutare, 260 kilometers (165 miles) east of Harare, where the weapons were found, reports the AP.

I.L.

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