HARARE, 28 July (IRIN) - Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has scoffed at a government plea for international assistance to build houses for thousands of people made homeless by its controversial urban cleanup campaign.
Vice President Joyce Mujuru reportedly made the appeal on Wednesday, noting that Operation Murambatsvina (Drive Out Filth) had officially ended. According to the United Nations, the two-month eviction campaign has affected some 700,000 urban dwellers.
"We welcome any help we can get from the international community, including the United Nations Organisations with which we cooperate in so many other humanitarian endeavours. I appeal to the international community to stop stone-throwing, but to join us in this noble effort to promote the good of our people," Mujuru told the official Herald newspaper.
MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyati labelled the call for aid "naive" and claimed that the operation was still underway.
"The campaign was vindictive and certainly uncalled for - people lost their lives and livelihoods in the process. Now the government is trying to hoodwink the international community into believing that the exercise has ended when, in fact, it hasn't. If donors want to help, we suggest that the assistance be channelled into the hands of those who will make a difference in the lives of those affected, instead of passing the funds to the government," he told IRIN.
The United Nations has come out strongly against the government's cleanup operation, but Harare has dug in its heels and dismissed the findings of UN special envoy Anna Tibaijuka, who visited the country earlier this month on a fact-finding mission.
Authorities insisted the demolitions were carried out in order to improve urban areas, which they claimed had become a breeding ground for illicit activities.
They have subsequently announced a corrective effort dubbed Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (Stay Well), a Zim $3 trillion (US $300 million) construction programme that is expected to create accommodation for those affected by the cleanup, and build factory shells and market stalls.
But analysts said the government's aid appeal was a veiled admission that the cleanup blitz had been chaotic, and the recovery programme was far beyond its capacity.
Harare-based political commentator Anesu Sibindi commented: "The appeal is long overdue, and we hope that whoever is going to lend Zimbabwe a helping hand will make a thorough follow-up, to make sure that the assistance they have given is channelled to the rightful beneficiaries."
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has "in principle" accepted an invitation from President Robert Mugabe to visit the country, although the mission is unlikely to take place in the near future, according to Annan's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.
Speaking to journalists in New York on Tuesday, Dujarric said: "Obviously the Secretary-General would not want to substitute himself for his Special Envoy - for Anna Tibaijuka - who has, as you know, drafted a very comprehensive and full report.
Regardless of the date of an eventual visit by the Secretary-General, it's clear that a number of things need to happen: one of them is that the evictions must cease, and that humanitarian access, humanitarian aid, must be provided to the people in need."
Moreover, he noted, "there would need to be the start of a political process - political dialogue - between the government and other stakeholders in Zimbabwe. All these things would need to happen, or at least get under way in a meaningful manner, before the Secretary-General would go".
Foreign Affairs Minister Samuel Mumbegegwi told IRIN on Thursday: "This is a phased national programme. The demolitions are over and now we are rebuilding orderly cities.
"As for party talks being a pre-condition to Mr Annan's visit, President Mugabe has repeatedly stressed that talks will only take place if the MDC transforms into a truly Zimbabwean opposition party with national interests, not those of its imperialist handlers, coming first. That position has not changed because the (MDC) opposition has not changed."
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