ZIMBABWEAN opposition parties have criticised President Robert Mugabe's call to the African National Congress (ANC) at the weekend to "apply every means at their disposal" to overrule a North Gauteng High Court decision that Zimbabweans accused of human rights abuses are eligible for prosecution in SA.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said Mr Mugabe was making a desperate attempt to use liberation ties to circumvent judicial processes.

Nhlanhla Dube, spokesman of the splinter MDC party led by Welshman Ncube, said: "Mr Mugabe's rule is littered with human rights abuses and his rejection of the ruling is not surprising, as agreeing to it would be tantamount to handing himself over for prosecution."

Two groups - the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum - want SA to arrest and prosecute 17 Zimbabweans accused of torture in 2007 if they enter the country. The groups have cited SA's obligations to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Political observers said Mr Mugabe could be "feeling the heat" from a cabal of army generals alarmed by the ruling and the possibility of standing trial for crimes against humanity, after former Liberian president Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 year's imprisonment by the ICC last month.

At a meeting of secretary generals in Harare, Mr Mugabe rejected the high court ruling made last month by Judge Hans Fabricius - whom he called a "boer" - and dismissed it as violation of the country's sovereignty.

"That judgment, like those outrageous ones of the Southern African Development Community Tribunal which has now been dissolved, constitutes a direct assault on our sovereignty by shameless forces afflicted by racist nostalgia," he said. "I wish to urge our colleagues in the ANC to see this for what it is and apply every means . at their disposal to ensure that such machinations are not, in the end, allowed to negatively affect our cordial relations."

He said whites in southern Africa, including Judge Fabricius, were trying to makes excuses for their defeat by the forces of African liberation.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe put a damper on Mr Mugabe's call, saying: "The ANC does not ignore the rule of law, so we respect the ruling."

Those who brought the case say they have documented abuses by Zimbabweans and envision a trial in SA. The case is likely to be tied up in appeals for some time before any probe starts.

With Sapa-AFP