Rhodesian security forces today killed 183 of their own paramilitary troops accused of "operating in Mafia-style gangs" and terrorizing the countryside.
Paramilitary troops killed in the operation were members of black "auxiliaries" which have been organized by Rhodesian forces to help combat black nationalist guerrillas. Unlike the gurerillas, the auxiliaries support political parties that collaborated with Rhodesia's former white-dominated government and whose leaders participate in the recent elections.
In announcing today's incident, the Rhodesians accused the auxiliaries of robbing and murdering black tribesmen in the countryside instead of helping to maintain order.
The exact circumstances in which the auxiliary members died were not immediately disclosed. It was not clear, for example, whether the deaths were the result of a planned attack or spontaneous fighting.
The death toll, by far the highest ever inside the country in the six-year-old war, ironically included a number of Prime Minister Abel Muzorewa's own party auxiliaries although the bulk of the dead belonged to the dissident leader, Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole.
The military communique announcing the clashes said security forces had been in the process of regrouping the auxiliaries who were reported to be intimidating villagers and "operating in Mafia-style gangs" in eight different areas of the country.
"This situation has been a festering sore for some time," the communique said. "Tribal people were being terrorized by gangs who were nothing more than bandits and it was felt that the situation had to be corrected before any amnesty campaign could be launched.
The Muzorewa government is understood to be on the point of renewing its efforts to lure guerrillas to its side by declaring a new amnesty after the failure of initial efforts when the bishop became prime minister last month.
The clashes appeared likely to exacerbate political tension in Bishop Muzorewa's party, the United African National Council, and growing complaints among Africans that little has been accomplished so far under black-majority rule in the embattled and still unrecognized new nation of Zimbbwe-Rhodesia.
The crackdown came as Muzorewa ended in a nationwide three-day tour of all military centers for "full and frank" talks with top officers during whie he told theat "the African people of this country are not your enemy."
Earlier today, police arrested more to 100 supporters of Sithole in a sweep on his party offices and installations, including his own home. The dissident leader, who has refused to take up his 12 elected seats in the new Parliament, is currently on a visit to London.
A spokesman for his party, the internal Zimbabwe African National Union, denounced the raids as part of what he called a continuing nationwide campaign of "harrassing, intimidating and humiliating" its officials and supporters.
"The raids are meant to frighten us so that we may change our position regarding our rejection of the April election results and our boycott of Parliament. They are also certainly meant to demoralize our supporters," an official party statement said later.
Both Muzorewa and Sithole formed separate armed auxiliaries, known as The Spear of the People, earlier this year with government approval. They were intended both to bolster the thinly stretched regular government forces and to aid in the April election campaign that led to Muzorewa forming the country's first black-led government.
After the elections, the government decided that the auxiliaries, how already had a poor reputation because of incidents of indiscipline and misbehavior, would have to be curbed and brought under direct military control.
The military communique said that the clashes that led to the high death toll occurred in just two of the eight districts where they were being regrouped for additional training.
It added that the ill-disciplined groups concerned were made up of supporters of both Muzorewa and Sithole but that the latter's men were in the majority.
The communique also tried to defend the reputation of the auxiliaries who now number close to 10,000, or roughly one-third the size of the regular security forces.
"In the vast majority of areas," it said, "the security force auxiliaries have carried out their tasks extremely well and have lived up to their name. This operation will result in a more efficient and better disciplined auxiliary force capable of playing a major role in the war against terrorism."
Military regularly refers to the guerrillas fighting to overthrow the Muzorewa government as "terrorists" and those who came over to its side as "guerrillas" or "auxiliaries."
Just how the clashes and high death toll will affect the government's new amnesty campaign, which was scheduled to be launched by the bishop in a nationwide address this weekend, was not immediately clear. But observers here said it might easily undermine the while effort since the guerrillas were now likely to be far more wary of coming over to the government's side.
The vast majority of the guerrillas who have given up the war and joined in supporting the government have been enrolled in the auxiliary force to lead the untrained new party recruits who provide the bulk of the paramilitary force.
Meanwhile, government security forces continued their raids into neighboring Zambia, sweeping across the Zambezi River in helicopters to thwart what the military called "an imminent terrorist crossing."
There was no immediate report on casualties or damage in the raid five miles from Livingstone, the site of Victoria Falls. But the military said all its troops had returned safely.
The attack is the latest in a long series the government has been carrying out against guerrillas of the Patriotic Front under the leadership of Joshua Nkomo. It comes just one week before Britain's Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to visit that country to open the Commonwealth conference of 40 heads of government.
There has been concern in Britain over the visit of the Queen To Zambia because of the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian raids. She is currently in Tanzania.