Humanitarian improvements needed before Annan would visit Zimbabwe - UN

Zimbabwe's eviction of hundreds of thousands of its poorest citizens must cease, humanitarian access to those in need must be guaranteed, and a political dialogue between the government and other parties must start before United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan visits the country, his spokesman said today.

Mr. Annan has accepted "in principle" an invitation from Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe but no date has been set, spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in reply to a question at the noon daily briefing, just days after the UN released a report calling the evictions of up to 700,000 people a "disastrous venture" carried out with "indifference to human suffering" and with "enormous" humanitarian consequences.

"Regardless of the date of an eventual visit by the Secretary-General, it's clear that a number of things need to happen," Mr. Dujarric said. "One of them is that the evictions must cease and that humanitarian access, humanitarian aid must be provided to the people in need.

"So yes, he's accepted in principle but no date has been set and it's obviously something that would have to happen further down the road, and we would have to see a number of improvements on the situation on the ground before he would go."

He also noted that Mr. Annan would obviously not want to substitute himself for his special envoy Anna Tibaijuka, who drafted the report after a two-week visit.

When asked if that meant not this year, Mr. Dujarric stressed: "It's not imminent, but the important factor is what happens on the ground."

Apart from the cessation of evictions and access to humanitarian aid, "obviously, as Ms. Tibaijuka pointed out in her report, there would need to be a start of a political process, such as a political dialogue between the government and other stakeholders in Zimbabwe," he said.

"All these things would need to happen in a meaningful way before the Secretary-General would travel."