Zimbabwe dismisses talk of UN role in its crisis

By Stella Mapenzauswa

HARARE – Zimbabwe has dismissed South Africa’s suggestion of U.N. intervention to end its long crisis, hinting that an invitation to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was no longer valid, state media reported on Thursday.

“Zimbabwe

is not a U.N. issue,” the state-owned Herald quoted Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba as saying.

He added the Harare government was “unaware of any U.N. intervention on Zimbabwe”, the Herald said.

South African President Thabo Mbeki on Wednesday spoke of a U.N. effort to help end Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis that has left its 12 million people facing their worst hardships since independence from Britain in 1980.

Mbeki, speaking to the Financial Times, said Annan had told him in South Africa earlier this year about contacts with Mugabe’s government and said the world should await the outcome of Annan’s diplomacy instead of prescribing solutions to Zimbabwe’s crisis.

Mbeki also said Zimbabwe had agreed to a visit by Annan and was involved in its planning.

“What I am aware of is a stale invitation, which was extended to the U.N. Secretary-General by President Mugabe at the time of the clean-up operation,” Charamba said, referring to a state crackdown on urban shantytowns which the U.N. says left some 700,000 people homeless.

Charamba said the need for Annan’s visit had been removed by the government’s construction of houses to replace those destroyed. Critics describe the pace of the rebuilding programme as too slow and say thousands remain out in the cold.

Charamba was not available for comment on Thursday.

CLEANUP WORSENS PLIGHT

Critics say the cleanup worsened the plight of Zimbabweans grappling with the world’s highest inflation rate, unemployment of over 70 percent and chronic shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency, all widely blamed on government mismanagement.

Mugabe, in power since 1980, denies responsibility, and in turn accuses former colonial power Britain of spearheading a Western campaign to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy because of his seizure of white-owned commercial farms.

“Zimbabwe is under sanctions, illegal sanctions, from the European Union and United States and this in respect of its land reform programme,” Charamba said, referring to travel sanctions on Harare’s ruling elite.

The government says the limited measure has in fact affected the entire country.

“This is a bilateral matter between Britain and Zimbabwe. It’s not a U.N. matter. Zimbabwe’s expectation was, and remains, that the U.N. should have challenged the illegal sanctions imposed on it,” Charamba told the Herald.

On Wednesday top U.N. officials in New York played down speculation of a U.N. initiative on Zimbabwe and said it was too early to talk of a deal involving international aid and Mugabe’s possible resignation.

In Harare church leaders, including some who have criticised the government, held what they called a “fruitful” meeting with Mugabe on Thursday over the situation in the country but declined to give details. — Reuter