By CELEAN JACOBSON
The Associated Press
Saturday, March 17, 2007; 5:51 PM
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Three Zimbabwean opposition activists were arrested as they tried to leave the country Saturday, including two who were allegedly beaten by police and were going to South Africa to seek medical treatment, a party official said.
The African Union, meanwhile, called on Zimbabwe to respect its citizens' human rights.
Arthur Mutambara, head of a faction of the Zimbabwean opposition group Movement for Democratic Change, was arrested at Harare International Airport as he was trying to leave for South Africa, said Roy Bennett, the movement's exiled treasurer-general.
Also arrested in a separate incident were Grace Kwinje and Sekai Holland, who were to attempting to go to South Africa for medical treatment, he said.
"We are not sure why they were arrested. Tensions are very high," Bennett said.
Tawanda Mutasah, director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, said the two women, among the most severely injured when Zimbabwean police broke up a protest gathering last Sunday, were trying to travel to Johannesburg to receive specialized post-traumatic care.
He said the ambulance carrying the women from a clinic in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, to the airport, where they were to leave in a medical rescue aircraft, was stopped on the tarmac by officers from Zimbabwe's security forces.
The women's passports were taken and they were told they needed a clearance certificate from the Department of Health. They were then instructed to go to Harare's central police station but were later allowed to return to the clinic under police guard.
"That the Zimbabwean government now resorts to arresting people in ambulances in clear need of specialist care, is an indication of the repressive lengths they're prepared to go," said Mutasah, adding lawyers for the women were trying to get a court order to allow them to receive treatment.
Zimbabwean police used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to crush the March 11 protest gathering, and beat activists, including the main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, according to opposition members.
Tsvangirai left the hospital Friday battered but defiant, pledging to "soldier on until Zimbabwe is free." His supporters vowed to drive Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe from office with a campaign of civil disobedience.
Mugabe on Friday warned his opponents against inciting unrest.
"If they do it again, we will bash them again," he said in an address to his party's youth wing, state radio reported.
The latest violence has drawn new attention to a deteriorating situation in the southern African country, where the increasingly autocratic Mugabe is blamed by opponents for repression, corruption, acute food shortages and inflation of 1,600 percent _ the highest in the world.
The 53-nation African Union issued a statement Saturday saying Commission Chief Alpha Oumar Konare "has followed with great concern the recent developments in Zimbabwe" and "recalls the need for the scrupulous respect for human rights and democratic principles in Zimbabwe."
Southern African nations have come under increasing pressure for their failure to condemn Mugabe, especially South Africa and its President Thabo Mbeki, who has said quiet diplomacy is preferable to public condemnation.
Western government have uniformly condemned the crackdown, with the United States threatening to strengthen sanctions against Mugabe and his associates. The European Union renewed targeted sanctions last month that include asset freezes and a travel ban on Mugabe and more than 100 of his top associates.