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Zimbabwe opposition figure Roy Bennett dies in U.S. helicopter crash

By Susan McFarland
Zimbabwe opposition figure Roy Bennett dies in U.S. helicopter crash
Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change Roy Bennett signs a summons issued to him outside the high court in 2010. The Zimbabwe opposition figure died Wednesday in a New Mexico helicopter crash. File Photo by Aaron Ufumeli/EPA

Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Prominent Zimbabwean politician Roy Bennett, along with his wife and three others, were killed in a New Mexico helicopter crash. One person survived.

Bennett, 60, a former coffee farmer who became a key Zimbabwean opposition leader, was traveling with his wife, Heather, and Charles Burnett III, a wealthy businessman when the crash occurred Wednesday.

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Burnett's friends, pilot Jamie Coleman Dodd of Colorado and co-pilot Paul Cobb of Texas, also died when the Huey UH-1 went down after dark. The only survivor, the co-pilot's daughter Andra Cobb, called for help, according to New Mexico State Police.

Roy Bennett was treasurer-general of the Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) opposition party. He spoke fluent Shona and advocated political change, which drew a dedicated following of Zimbabweans.

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Bennett's passion, which drew the wrath of former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, landed him in jail for a year after a brawl with the country's justice minister over a land redistribution program that resulted in most of the country's 4,000 white farmers losing their land. Bennett was later accused of a plot to overthrow Mugabe and cleared of treason charges the following year.

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Obert Gutu, spokesman for the MDC-T party, said he was devastated by Bennett's death.

"Roy was a resolute and committed fighter for democratic change in Zimbabwe," Gutu said. He was "a charismatic and extremely popular grass-roots mobilizer who easily connected with both senior and ordinary members of the party."

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