Angolan troops to'help Mugabe'

Angola is sending 2,500 of its feared paramilitary police to Zimbabwe, raising concerns of an escalation in violence against President Robert Mugabe's opponents, it was reported today.

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Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi confirmed the imminent arrival of the Angolans, Britain's The Times reported today.

He said 1,000 Angolans were expected on April 1, with the rest to follow in groups of 500.

Angola is regarded as the most powerful military nation in Africa, after South Africa.

Mr Mohadi said he'd signed an agreement for the deployment of the Angolan paramilitaries with General Roberto Monteiro, the Interior Minister of Angola, last week, The Times reported.

"We signed a memorandum of cooperation last Thursday and it is meant to ensure public order and security for both our peoples and the whole southern African region," he said.

The police would be on "an exchange program", he said.

"We have done that in the past, and it is not something new."

But police sources who asked not to be named told The Times that previous training exchange programs with southern African countries had involved only small numbers of officers at a time.

This was the first time there has been such a large group, one source said.

The paramilitaries, notorious for their violence and dubbed ninjas for their all black uniforms, form part of the presidential guard of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power in Angola since 1979.

They will significantly reinforce Zimbabwe's police force, which used to have 25,000 officers but has been severely depleted in recent months by mass resignations due to discontent with low pay and poor conditions, The Times reported.

Western powers have been using increasingly alarming language to describe the situation in Zimbabwe.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday said Mr Mugabe's regime as "appalling, disgraceful and utterly tragic for the people of Zimbabwe" and damaging the whole region's reputation.

"Let's be very clear: the solution to Zimbabwe ultimately will not come simply through the pressure applied by Britain.

That pressure has got to be applied within Africa, in particular within the African Union," Mr Blair said.

"We will continue to do all we can to make sure that Africa realises this is the responsibility of Africa as well as the Zimbabwean government."

US ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell said opposition to Mr Mugabe had reached a tipping point because the people no longer feared the regime and believed they have nothing left to lose.

Mr Dell said growing numbers within the regime and the party also wanted Mr Mugabe to step down.

And the violence directed against Zimbabweans by the government was causing a split in the security forces.

Rank-and-file police officers increasingly were reluctant to carry out such attacks, Dell said.

Both Britain and the United States have called for more sanctions against Mr Mugabe's government because of what they say is a violent crackdown on opposition leaders and the severe economic crisis they blame on state mismanagement.

Mr Mugabe last week told his Western critics "to go hang" and his foreign minister threatened to throw out Western ambassadors who continue to criticise his government.

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