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UN chief says Zimbabwe rejecting aid for homeless

Cris Chinaka

HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s cabinet has rejected United Nations’ aid for thousands of Zimbabweans still homeless after a controversial government clean-up campaign earlier this year, a U.N. statement said.


. officials have for months been trying to smooth differences with Zimbabwe over a stalled $30 million humanitarian relief programme offered after the government demolished thousands of shacks and “illegal” houses.

In a statement issued in New York and distributed in Harare on Tuesday, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Annan urged Harare to address the needs of those still without homes.

“The Secretary-General remains deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe,” the statement said, adding that the United Nations was getting reports that tens of thousands of people were still homeless and in need of aid after the eviction campaign began in May 2005.

“He is particularly dismayed to learn that the Government of Zimbabwe’s Ad-Hoc Inter-Ministerial Cabinet Committee has rejected offers of U.N. assistance,” the statement said.

Mugabe’s government has refused aid from the world body because of the U.N.’s description of Zimbabwe’s demolition programme as a humanitarian crisis, and over calls for the prosecution of those who led the campaign.

“In an official communication, the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development (Ignatius Chombo) stated that there is no longer a compelling need to provide temporary shelter as there is no humanitarian crisis,” Annan’s spokesman said.

The U.N. statement said Chombo assured the world body that the Zimbabwe government had addressed the most urgent shelter needs of those affected.

“The above statements directly contradict the report by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe, Ms Anna Tibaijuka, as well as most recent reports from the United Nations and the humanitarian community,” Annan’s spokesman said.

“The Secretary-General notes the government’s decision to decline assistance comes despite extensive consultations on relief efforts that ensued in the past months between the United Nations and the government.”

There was no immediate reaction from Mugabe’s government.

A U.N. special report by Tibaijuka said the destruction of so-called illegal homes and shacks had affected more than 700,000 people in a southern African country struggling with a severe economic crisis.

Mugabe, 81 and in power for 25 years, is accused by his critics of wrecking the southern African state by rigging major elections in the last five years and pursuing controversial policies which have left him branded a dictator.

Mugabe says Zimbabwe has been targeted by foreign opponents led by former colonial ruler Britain for his nationalistic policies and says most of Africa is firmly on his side in what he describes as an ongoing struggle against imperialism.

The veteran Zimbabwean leader also rejects accusations that he has rigged three presidential and parliamentary elections in the last five years to retain power. — Reuter

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