A number of former guerrillas loyal to minority leader Joshua Nkomo left their base in western Zimbabwe last night, according to a government spokesman.
Their departure raised fears of renewed armed clashes in this tribally divided nation.
The spokesman today said only that "there was an exodus from Gwai Mine ZIPRA camp" and that some vehicles on the highway leading to Victoria Falls, the country's major tourist attraction, "were delayed." ZIPRA stands for Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army.
The spokesman did not say how many troops left the camp, where they had been awaiting induction into the new national Army, without authorization, but an informed source said the number was between 100 and 150.
Although the spokesman said the road had been reopened and there was "no cause for alarm," there was concern that the unexplained "exodus" by the guerrillas could lead to a resumption of tribal fighting that killed approximately 300 persons last month around Bulawayo, the country's second largest city.
In last month's fighting Prime Minister Robert Mugabe used elements of the former white-led military to end fighting between his own and Nkomo's guerrillas. At the time senior commanders ordered Nkomo's forces to obey govenment orders to turn in their weapons, but many have been slow to comply.
Last night's incident reportedly involved a clash between elements in ZIPRA wishing to remain loyal to Nkomo, who is minister of state without portfolio, and others who want to return to the bush and resist the order to turn in their arms.
Exchanges of small-arms fire were reported but there was no information on casualties.
Gwai Mine houses most of the remaining forces in ZIPRA, one of the two guerrilla armies that fought for seven years to gain black-majority rule, which was finally achieved a year ago.
The base is a storehouse of military equipment that filtered into the country from neighboring Zambia where Nkomo's forces were headquartered during the war.
The weapons, which include missiles, artillery and personnel carriers, "give ZIPRA substantial military capability," a source said.
Last month Mugabe ordered the disarming of the estimated 25,000 guerrillas in the country who are still awaiting induction into the new national Army.
It is expected, however, that the government will leave Nkomo's heavily armed bastion at Gwai until last to reduce the potential for renewed violence since three to five ZIPRA batallions have dug in on the hilly base.
The ZIPRA forces are mainly made up of soldiers from the minority Ndebele tribe while Mugabe's former guerrilla army is predominantly from the Shona tribe, which comprises 80 percent of the population. Although they fought jointly to end 90 years of white rule, the two guerrilla armies clashed among themselves as well.
The ZIPRA forces fear that once they have been disarmed Nkomo's party will lose its political clout.