Zimbabwe

Annan keen to visit Zimbabwe

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HARARE - United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is keen to visit crisis-hit Zimbabwe possibly by September this year, the UN co-ordinator in Harare said on Monday.

United Nations Development Programme resident representative and co-ordinator of the world body in Zimbabwe, Agostinho Zacarias, told journalists that Annan who last week released a damming report against Harare controversial urban clean-up campaign could visit the southern African nation before the Millennium Summit scheduled for September.

"The Secretary General has shown interest in visiting Zimbabwe to discuss the way forward ....there are no firm dates as yet but there are suggestions for him to come before the Millennium Summit due in September," said Zacarias.

Annan last week Friday released a hard-hitting report by his special envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, that castigated President Robert Mugabe's clean-up exercise as a "disastrous venture" that had left 700 000 people without homes or jobs and also blatantly violated international law.

The report said another 2.4 million people had also been affected by the clean-up operation which it said had sparked off a fresh humanitarian crisis in a country already grappling severe food shortages and HIV/AIDS.

Annan fully backed the report calling on Mugabe and his government to halt the demolition of city backyard cottages and shantytowns and to bring to book government officials behind the clean-up exercise.

But the Zimbabwe government immediately rejected the UN report as biased, hostile and influenced by Britain and other Western governments opposed to Harare. Mugabe later challenged Annan, when the UN chief phoned him, to visit Zimbabwe and assess the situation on the ground for himself.

Western diplomats at the UN, who have unsuccessfully battled in the past to bring the home demolition campaign and Zimbabwe's wider humanitarian crisis before the UN Security Council, are expected to use the report to introduce debate on the southern African nation.

UN experts say such a development could see the world organisation taking a more direct and tougher approach to help resolve Zimbabwe's crisis.

Harare has defended its clean-up operation as vital to smash crime and a thriving but illegal black-market for foreign currency and basic commodities in short supply in Zimbabwe.

Zacarias yesterday said the UN was concerned about continuing displacements of people in some parts of Zimbabwe saying this could hamper relief efforts.

He said: "It's difficult to assist a moving target, we can only be effective if the situation is static ....we have also received reports of displacements in Chipinge but the information still needs to be verified. If people continue to move it becomes difficult to assess."

Zacarias also said representatives from UN-Habitat had met with Zimbabwe government officials on Monday to discuss the way forward based on the recommendations contained in the UN report. - ZimOnline