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Shoot-out shatters calm between Zimbabwe rivals

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Following large-scale guerrilla violence near Bulawayo this week, there is a greater awareness of the urgent need to reconcile the differences between this country's two main political factions.

A 24-hour gun battle between two rival guerrilla armies that left at least 55 dead and more than 300 wounded is gravely endangering the coalition government that has ruled Zimbabwe since independence seven months ago.

The shoot-out in the Bulawayo suburb of Entumbane was easily the worst confrontation between rival wings of the nationalist movement led by Prime Minister Robert Mugabe and his one-time partner in guerrilla warfare, Joshua Nkomo.

Together the two men 11 months ago negotiated a peace agreement and cease-fire with the whites and moderate blacks led by former Prime Minister Bishop Abel Muzorewa at the British-sponsored Lancaster House talks in London. They and their followers have grown steadily apart in the interim.

Not that the collapse of the uneasy coalition between Messrs. Mugabe and Nkomo, the two longtime rivals for supreme political authority in Zimbabwe, would necissitate a change of government. Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF has an absolute majority in Parliament with 57 of the 100 seats. Thus he could govern without the votes and support of the 20 Patriotic Front (ZAPU) members of Parliament who support Home Affairs Minister Nkomo.

The outburst of violence is a serious threat not just to Mr. Mugabe's announced "reconciliation" policy but also to hopes that Western countries will step up economic aid and private investment in Zimbabwe. Business leaders called on Mr. Mugabe while the firing was still going on to warn him that the deterioration in the security position was having an adverse impact on business confidence both at home and abroad.

Optimists here believe that the shooting could have a favorable effect if it finally convinces Mr. Mugabe and his top ministers that effective steps must be taken to disarm the guerrillas and speed up the integration of a national army.

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