Zim court orders bail for Bennett

HARARE: Zimbabwe's high court Friday ordered the release of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's aide Roy Bennett whose detention sparked a boycott of President Robert Mugabe's camp in the unity government.

"In my view the applicant stands to lose more by absconding trial. He has not soiled his previous record, therefore he is entitled to an order that he seeks," Justice Charles Hungwe told the court.

The state immediately appealed the ruling but Hungwe dismissed the bid to keep Bennett in custody until the start of his terrorism trial Monday, after a lower court revoked his bail this week.

The lawyer for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, Harrison Nkomo, said he would leave for Mutare, where Bennett was detained Wednesday, to arrange his release.

"He has to be released today or else they are in violation," he told reporters, saying the bail terms of 5,000 US dollars and Bennett's surrendering of his property title deeds remained the same.

Bennett, who was Tsvangirai's pick as deputy agriculture minister but was arrested an hour before Mugabe swore in the new government in February, was ordered back to custody Wednesday to stand trial.

Tsvangirai on Thursday announced he was suspending cooperation with the Mugabe camp, saying he will not resume relations until all outstanding issues are resolved and the unity pact is fully put in place,

The action against Bennett showed the MDC had an "unreliable and unrepentant partner", he said.

"It is our right to disengage from a dishonest and unreliable partner," the MDC leader told journalists in the capital Harare.

The Bennett case became a symbol of the unresolved challenges facing the eight-month unity government set up when the MDC leader joined his old rival Mugabe in power in February, nearly a year after disputed polls.

"Justice has prevailed. We have an attorney general masquerading as a lawyer for a long time," Finance Minister and MDC number two Tendai Biti said outside the court.

Tsvangirai's disengagement from the unity government Thursday ushered in the pact's biggest threat amid lingering problems of disputes over key posts and MDC claims of a crackdown against its supporters.