NAIROBI, Kenya - Zimbabwe's opposition party yesterday accused the country's military of plotting to assassinate presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai using snipers.

The Movement for Democratic Change said Tsvangirai planned to return to Zimbabwe to contest the June 27 runoff once security measures were in place to protect him.

On Saturday, the opposition said it had received details of the alleged assassination plot as Tsvangirai was on his way to the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, to return home.

The assassination plot involves 18 snipers, party secretary-general Tendai Biti said after a news conference yesterday in Nairobi.

"It is the military [plotting], the JOC that has been running the country" since the March 29 election, Biti said, referring to the Joint Operational Command. "I cannot speak [more] of that because it would put a lot of lives at risk."

Zimbabwean officials could not immediately be reached for comment yesterday.

Tsvangirai has survived three assassination attempts, including one in 1997 by unidentified assailants who tried to throw him from a 10th-floor window. Last year, he was hospitalized after an assault by police at a prayer rally, and images of his swollen face that were seen around the world came to symbolize the plight of dissenters.

Tsvangirai says he won the March presidential election outright against Robert Mugabe, 84, but official results and those compiled by independent monitors show that Tsvangirai did not win the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avert a runoff.

He said the June runoff was "merely extending and exacerbating the crisis" and would legitimize "Mugabe's constitutional coup." But Biti said the opposition would take part, as not doing so would hand victory to Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 28 years.