Govt blocks Annan visit

IN a move that could heighten tension between the United Nations and Zimbabwe, President  Mugabe has blocked the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan from visiting the country to tackle the current crisis.

Official sources said Mugabe had cancelled Annan’s trip to Ha

rare, which was set for July, because he feared the international community would use it to stampede him out of office.
 
It was said Mugabe was alarmed by the rapidly-moving developments around Annan’s visit which could cause an escalation of diplomatic activity on the Zimbabwe crisis.

Mugabe, sources said, is fighting to avoid the UN getting involved in the current issue as he might lose control of the process and find himself hurried towards the exits.

The UN intervention would introduce a new dynamic that Mugabe may find difficult to manage, observers said.

“The official thinking is that if Annan is allowed to come he would bring what amounts to an ultimatum to Mugabe in view of international pressure for him to quit,” a source said.
 
“Annan was expected to give Mugabe a take-it-or-leave-it exit package that has severe consequences for refusal.”

Sources said Mugabe has told his officials that Annan’s invitation to Harare has “expired”. This followed a series of behind-the-scenes events on the Zimbabwe issue.

Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba on Wednesday all but confirmed Mugabe had cancelled Annan’s visit, saying:
 
“I’m not aware of any UN intervention on Zimbabwe”.

He hinted Mugabe wanted Annan to visit on Harare’s terms.

However, deputy Information minister Bright Matonga said Harare had “confidence in Annan”, revealing confusion in official circles over the issue.

Sources said Charamba reflected Mugabe’s isolationist thinking, while Matonga exhibited the general official view that favoured engagement.

Sources said Mugabe suspected Annan wanted to put him in a “diplomatic cage” so that he could be a sitting-duck target for the international community.

As reported in this paper two weeks ago, Annan was said to be working on an internationally-driven plan to resolve Zimbabwe’s crisis and offer a safe exit strategy to Mugabe.

South African President Thabo Mbeki confirmed this on Wednesday in London after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He said he hoped Annan’s visit would help to resolve the local problem.

“We are all awaiting the outcome of his intervention,” Mbeki said.

In what seems a change of attitude, Mbeki suggested Zimbabwe’s crisis was not caused by external factors. South African deputy Foreign minister Aziz Pahad last week showed growing concern in Pretoria over Zimbabwe when he said there was need for an urgent solution to the problem.

“I think if you look back at these last few years the reasons why you’ve got those social and economic problems don’t rest here, but back there,” Mbeki said.

This is likely to fuel tensions between Mbeki and Mugabe, especially after Mugabe in February suggested that Mbeki should “keep away” from Zimbabwe.

Mugabe wanted Annan to confine himself to witnessing government efforts to rehouse people under Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle, not become involved in the political and economic crisis.

Mugabe clashed with Annan last year after the UN boss’s envoy Anna Tibaijuka compiled a damning report on Operation Murambatsvina, the urban cleansing campaign.

Mugabe in December also clashed with Annan’s humanitarian envoy Jan Egeland.

Mugabe invited Annan to visit Harare last September in a bid to deal with global outrage over Murambatsvina on condition he did not raise political issues. Annan refused to come on Mugabe’s terms.

Efforts to revive the issue were made when Mugabe met with UN under-secretary for political affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, in Mali in January.

Annan was then slotted in to visit in March but his agenda remained in dispute. Annan avoided Zimbabwe during his African visit in March but met Mbeki and they discussed the Zimbabwean issue. — Staff Writer.