Zimbabweans to protest N. Korean soccer team visit

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A Zimbabwean opposition group said Thursday it will protest against North Korean soccer players when they come to train here ahead of the World Cup because of North Korea's role in the massacres of tens of thousands of Zimbabweans in the 1980s.

Up to 40,000 civilians were massacred by an army brigade trained by North Korean instructors in western Zimbabwe's Matabeleland province during a five-year uprising.

"We have not forgiven them for that. We are totally opposed to the North Koreans coming to any part of Zimbabwe. We don't want them here. We are going to follow them (to Harare) and demonstrate against them," Methuseli Moyo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe African People's Union party, or ZAPU, told The Associated Press by phone.

North Korea's World Cup soccer team initially was to train in Bulawayo, in Matabeleland province. Zimbabwe Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi said the team now plans to train at a stadium in Harare, the capital, next month ahead of the tournament in neighboring South Africa. Mzembi denied the change of venue was politically motivated and said sporting facilities in Bulawayo were not adequate.

ZAPU, which is based in western Zimbabwe, said the whole affair has reopened wounds for families of victims massacred by troops loyal to President Robert Mugabe — a longtime ally of North Korea.

Troops were trained and commanded by North Koreans to crush the uprising after Zimbabwe won independence from colonial-era rule in 1980. Some human rights activists liken the five-year purge to genocide. Parts of Matabeleland were blocked from access to medicine and food during a drought.

The uprising ended when Mugabe signed a peace pact with ZAPU rebels and made party leader Joshua Nkomo a vice president in 1987.

Sports Minister David Coltart said Thursday the dates of the North Koreans' visit are still to be confirmed.

"It is important that the Zimbabwe government deals with this matter in a very sensitive way and does not ignore the history of North Korea here, and does not do anything that might inflame passions or reopen old wounds," he said.

But he added: "I don't think it is right to attack a group of young players for what happened 27 years ago in this country."

North Korea has qualified for its first World Cup since 1966 and will play Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast at the 2010 World Cup in what is probably the toughest of the eight competing groups.

Coltart described as speculation reports that North Korean team managers favored staying in Zimbabwe in the run-up to the World Cup amid fears some players might defect if they went elsewhere.