Zimbabwe declines to meet African Union official - report

Harare (dpa) - The Zimbabwe government has said it cannot "accommodate" a senior official from the African Union sent to investigate a controversial campaign of shack demolitions, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported Wednesday.

The paper said that Harare was unable to meet with Tom Nyanduga, an official with the AU Commission on Human and People's Rights, because the government was too busy dealing with the ongoing visit by U.N. envoy Anna Tibaijuka.

"Given the short notice advising Government on the visit by Mr Bahame Tom Nyanduga, an official from the African Union, it has not been possible to accommodate him in the current circumstances," the paper quoted a statement from Zimbabwe's foreign ministry as saying.

Nyanduga arrived in Harare on June 30 after he was sent by the chairman of the AU Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare, to investigate the seven-week old campaign of shack demolitions by Zimbabwe police that human rights groups say have left at least 300,000 people homeless.

There has been international condemnation of the programme and the way in which police have torched or bulldozed houses, shacks, squatter camps and flea markets they deem illegal.

In early July, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sent Anna Tibaijuka, the executive director of UN-Habitat, to assess the humanitarian impact of the programme.

Zimbabwe's state media claim the AU had breached protocol by sending Nyanduga without first informing the government. The media said Harare was only told of Nyanduga's visit at the last minute.

An official with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in Harare said he believed Nyanduga left Zimbabwe on Tuesday but there has been no official confirmation of his departure.

Wednesday's edition of the Herald said the government could not cope with Nyanduga's "concurrent itinerary" while Tibaijuka is in the country.

The AU last month declined to condemn the government's programme of shack demolitions, saying it was an "internal" matter and the continental body had no right to intervene.

The ZLHR official said Nyanduga had been expected to gather information and report back to the AU before it ended its summit in Libya. That summit has now ended. dpa rt ds


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