The government today released and deported two white military officers acquitted last week of plotting to sabotage the Air Force but four other officers remained in prison.
Air Vice Marshal Hugh Flatters and Commodore Philip Pile, the most senior of the six airmen, were hustled out of the country aboard an Air Zimbabwe flight to London. The two were released under the condition that they leave the country immediately. Neither they nor their lawyers would comment tonight as they boarded the plane.
Government officials said they would take steps to have the two officers declared "prohibited persons" under emergency security legislation similar to that which enabled the government to rearrest and detain without trial the six officers immediately after their recent acquittal.
The government gave no explanation for releasing the two men, nor did it offer any justification for retaining the other four. Informed sources have said government officials are convinced that at least some of the lower-ranking officers were guilty of aiding the sabotage plot despite their acquittals.
The British High Commission here, which had been negotiating for the airmen's freedom for more than a week, said it welcomed the release of the two officers and hoped all will eventually be released.
Britain had made clear in the talks that it would accept all six of the officers, four of whom hold dual British-Zimbabwean citizenship.
The release coincides with Prime Minister Robert Mugabe's arrival in the United States Saturday. But Home Affairs Minister Herbert Ushewokunze, who ordered the six rearrested last week and who signed the release order today, said in a written statement that the decision to free the two officers had actually been made the day after their redetention.
"Delays in implementing this decision have been occasioned by unnecessary and irrelevant stances and tantrums taken by the officers and their lawyers," Ushewokunze said.
Sources said the minister was referring to the officers' insistence that all six be freed and that they not forfeit their pensions and property in Zimbabwe.
The six were arrested following the July 25, 1982, explosions that destroyed or damaged 13 Zimbabwean warplanes. They all signed confessions admitting complicity in the sabotage, but later they repudiated the statements saying they had been tortured and coerced by police. A high court judge last week threw out the confessions and acquitted all six.