Fighting between factions of Zimbabwe's Army last week appear to have taken a far higher toll than initial reports indicated, and there are indications that serious hostilities could erupt again as the central government attempts to persuade ex-guerrilla supporters of rival political factions to lay down their arms.
There still has been no precise casualty figure for the fighting in the southwest part of the country. The official state radio announced an estimated death toll of 300 today, three times the figure previously given, but two hours later reduced it to 150.
Reporters in Bulawayo, the scene of the fighting, said today they had counted 149 bodies in three refrigerated railway cars where bodies were stored after the city's morgue, with a capacity of at least 30, was filled. In addition, about 50 members of the central government's Army reportedly were killed at a barracks and there were reports of numerous other killings elsewhere.
The known toll -- higher than in all but the most intense weeks of the seven-year guerrilla war that led to independence last year -- is expected to climb as the slow cooling of hostilities allows police access to more areas.
One element of tension was removed today in Bulawayo's Entumbane township when more than 1,000 former guerrillas loyal to Prime Minister Robert Mugabe were disarmed and moved about 20 miles south of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city.
But rival forces, loyal to minority party leader Joshua Nkom, refused to surrender their weapons, a precondition to moving them to another site about 20 miles northeast of the city.
Nkomo made it clear that with tensions still so high, he was not in a position to order his men to surrender their arms. "You ask them. I won't," he told a reporter in Bulawayo.
"The most important thing at the moment is just to get these people out of the public areas," Nkomo said. In a reference to violence in Entumbane last November, he added, "The poor people of Bulawayo have had to put up with this shooting twice and it must not be allowed to happen a third time."
Government sensitivity about the fighting has been evident in the banning of any photographs in the Entumbane area. Officials barred the shipment out of the country of much of the television and still film taken during the height of the fighting Wednesday and Thursday.
Relatives have been told to pick up the bodies of the deceased by Monday or they will be buried in mass graves. Many of the bodies displayed today were mutilated or decayed, according to eyewitnesses, who said at least three were headless.
Scores of people waited for hours to troop through the three railway cars seeking to identify next of kin. There were a few women and children among the dead but the vast majority were young men, many in camouflage uniforms.
It thus appears that this time most of the victims were military men, unlike in November, when civilians made up most of the 58 casualties.
The refusal of Nkomo's men to surrender their weapons could lead to a new confrontation.
So far, the government has not made any statement on the situation. Nkomo has made all the announcements about separation of the forces. His backers fear that the other former guerrillas awaiting induction into the integrated military will be provided with more weapons since they are supporters of Mugabe's government.
The removal of ex-guerrillas from Bulawayo follows a similar partial exodus from around Salisbury and represents a serious setback for government efforts to integrate the men into civilian communities as they await military training.
The key stumbling block has been the difficulty in disarming the troops, since for years their weapons were their source of power. The animosity is based on tribal differences between the majority Shona and minority Ndebele tribes.
This time, however, the hostilities spread to three of the dozen integrated battalions in the new national Army.
Fighting between the forces left the three battalions in a shambles. It also called into question the government policy of seeking to integrate the roughly 40,000 men whose loyalties during the war were split among Mugabe, Nkomo and the white-minority government led by Ian Smith.