U.N. chief Annan to visit Zimbabwe - report

Harare (dpa) - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has accepted an invitation by President Robert Mugabe to visit Zimbabwe to assess the government's controversial campaign of shack clearances, the Herald newspaper reported Monday.

Presidential spokesman George Charamba was quoted as saying Annan had accepted the invitation last Friday following a telephone call to Mugabe.

"Mugabe extended the invitation which Mr. Annan has accepted after the U.N. boss phoned him last Friday just before he (Mugabe) left for China for a state visit,'' the Herald reported.

Charamba was quoted as saying Mugabe had "invited the Secretary-General to see what is happening on the ground and he agreed'', the report added.

Last Friday, U.N. Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka released a report in New York brandishing the Zimbabwean government's two-month old programme of demolishing "illegal'' flea markets, houses and shacks "a disastrous venture'' that has made at least 700,000 people homeless and would take the country years to recover from.

Tibaijuka recently visited Zimbabwe for a fortnight in her capacity as executive director of U.N.-Habitat to assess the humanitarian impact of "Operation Restore Order''.

Mugabe's government has dismissed Tibaijuka's report, claiming it was biased and hostile and deliberately ignored the government's bid to build new houses for the homeless in a follow-up operation called "Operation Garikai'' or "Settle and Prosper''.

Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi accused Tibaijuka of "whipping up the international community's emotions'', according to the Herald.

Speaking to ruling-party supporters in the Svosve district of eastern Zimbabwe at the weekend, he said: "Some people are used by the British (former colonial power) to try and negatively publicise Zimbabwe, as they want to see us suffering all the times.''

Charamba told the daily, but without saying when Annan would visit Zimbabwe: "The president told the Secretary-General that there was a deliberate decision in his envoy's report and by those against the clean-up operation not to recognise this noble policy initiated by the ruling party and adopted as policy by government.''

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says Operation Restore Order was designed to punish city dwellers who voted against Mugabe in parliamentary elections in March. Mugabe's party, which has strong support in rural areas, won a comfortable majority in the disputed polls.

Mugabe is currently in China for the first time in six years and is widely expected to ask Beijing, a key ally of his government, for financial aid, reports in Harare said. dpa rt pb ds


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