HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's generals and police commanders say they won't meet with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and other "malcontents" trying to undermine their powers, the country's official media reported Wednesday .
The state-owned Herald newspaper, controlled by President Robert Mugabe's party, said the country's powerful police chief warned critics of the army and police that they risked being arrested if they continued demanding reforms in the security forces and "peddling lies" on the allegedly tainted role of the armed services ahead of crucial elections later this year.
Security chiefs "will neither meet or engage" with Tsvangirai, the paper quoted police chief Augustine Chihuri as saying.
Chihuri said security chiefs "have no business talking to individuals of no substance," according to the paper, which said the police chief was addressing a police sports gala in Harare.
Tsvangirai's party has called for an overhaul of the police and military blamed for openly supporting Mugabe and failing to enforce the rule of law in the troubled southern African country.
Chihuri dismissed the calls for security reforms as attempts to create confusion within the ordinary ranks of the defense forces.
"I wish to warn liars and the peddlers of falsehoods who dream of talking to us, to this general or to that general ... the law will visit them harshly," Chihuri said, according to the paper.
Service commanders deny their units were among Mugabe loyalists blamed for state-orchestrated violence and human rights abuses surrounding past election campaigning and polling.
Chihuri said demands for "so-called security sector reforms" were a gimmick by political opponents who played no part in Zimbabwe's war of liberation that ended colonial-era rule and led to independence from Britain in 1980.
"We are too busy to engage with confused malcontents who do not know their identity and have a propensity to destroy what others, dead and alive fought for. They must stop abusing the freedom and democracy that so many Zimbabweans died for. I advise journalists to stop being used in this regard," Chihuri said.
It was the strongest criticism by a service commander of Tsvangirai and his party's leaders since several generals refused to salute the former opposition leader after he became prime minister in 2009 in a shaky coalition with Mugabe forged by regional mediators after the last violent and disputed elections the year before.
Chihuri's outspoken remarks were seen as another setback within the coalition as watershed elections loom.
Fresh elections to end the coalition are expected by September. Tsvangirai has asked his aides to open dialogue with the police and military to urge them to discharge their duties in an unbiased way and meet obligations in the constitution to be non-partisan.
Tsvangirai, 60, a former labor leader, did not join guerrilla forces fighting to end white ruled Rhodesia. His party says more democratic reforms, including a shuffle of some service units and commanders it accuses of being tainted by violence and alleged vote rigging, are a key demand to prepare the way for free and fair elections.
Chihuri, according to The Herald, rejected such reforms as "a non-issue."