HARARE – State media in Zimbabwe has accused a United States diplomat of a possible involvement in deadly shootings of protesters on August 1, 2018, and January this year.

The Herald newspaper reported Saturday that John Kent, a US embassy attache who oversaw the construction of the new embassy building “smuggled two rifles and two shotguns” into the country in 2016 without declaring them to authorities.

“Fears abound that the weapons could have been used for nefarious purposes, including civil disturbances that occurred in 2018 and this year, although The Herald could not ascertain this at the time of going to print,” the newspaper claimed.

Zimbabwe government officials and its military leaders have consistently refused to take responsibility for the street shooting of 41 people during post-election protests on August 1 last year, six of them fatally, and the deaths of at least 18 people in a January crackdown that followed protests over sharp fuel price increases.

A commission of inquiry set up to investigate the August 1 killings concluded that it was the army that was responsible for the deaths, and recommended prosecutions.

Zimbabwe government officials and military leaders have however claimed that the killings were orchestrated by opposition dissidents who stole army uniforms, although no evidence of this has been produced.

Kent, who is responsible for Overseas Building Operations and was project director for the New Embassy Campus, “did not register or get his weapons licenced… as part of his diplomatic luggage in 2016”, the Herald claimed.

The presence of the guns only became known to authorities on February 15 this year when he requested to import the firearms in diplomatic correspondence with Zimbabwe’s foreign ministry.

“Mr Kent was, however, already in possession of the firearms,” the newspaper went on, identifying the “smuggled weapons” as two Bolt Action rifles — a Savage 111 and Remington 700 — and two semi-automatic shotguns — a Berreta A390 and Weatherby SA-08.

“Kent stayed three years in the country, in possession of unlicensed firearms which is also a violation of the law. There is no guarantee that the firearms were not used for any outward or unlawful activities during that period,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed official as saying.

ZimLive has reached out to the United States embassy for a comment, and will update this post.

On Friday, The Herald claimed civic organisations and the opposition MDC had sent their members to the Maldives and Czech Republic for “regime change training”. The paper claimed the MDC and its partners are “seeking to unleash a wave of violent demonstrations beginning next month.”