Zimbabwe rejects UN report as biased

HARARE -- The Zimbabwe government on Friday rejected a United Nations report condemning its controversial urban clean-up campaign, saying the report was biased and hostile to the southern African nation.
But analysts and human rights activists in Harare welcomed the report saying it vindicated them and called on President Robert Mugabe to bring to book those responsible for the clean-up exercise as demanded by the UN report.

They also said the report, commissioned by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, could open the way for tougher UN Security Council action to punish human rights abuses by Mugabe's government.

But Zimbabwe Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi dismissed the report off hand, telling journalists in Harare last night that Operation Murambtsvina or Operation Restore Order, government codenames for the clean-up exercise, was carried in accordance with the country's laws and conformed to international standards.

"The report describes the operation in value-laden and judgmental language which clearly demonstrates inbuilt bias against the government and the operation," Mumbengegwi told a news conference called last night to respond to the report.

"The report demonstrates hostility to the operation...the report's allegation that the operation was carried out in a manner that violated 'national and international legal frameworks' is false," said Mumbengegwi.

The report, which breaks silence in the UN over Mugabe's policies, was compiled by UN-Habitat executive director Anna Tibaijuka and comes as Western states have unsuccessfully tried to put the issue on the UN Security Council's agenda.

The report, the first detailed record of the impact of Harare's clean-up exercise, said more than 700 000 people had lost their homes and means of livelihoods in the operation, adding another 2.4 million people were also affected by the government exercise.

But Mumbengegwi said the figures were not true.

The Zimbabwe foreign affairs minister also said Tibaijuka had upheld "a pro-opposition tone" in her report adding that while Harare welcomed external help, it was strongly opposed to intrusions or assistance that came with conditions.

He charged that former colonial master Britain had hijacked and politicised Tibaijuka's two-week mission to Zimbabwe which ended this month with a view to take her report to the UN Security Council.

It was not possible to get comment from the British embassy in Harare on the charges last night.

University of Zimbabwe (UZ) political analyst Heneri Dzinotyiwei told Zimonline that the hard-hitting report cleared the way for Western countries to haul crisis-sapped Zimbabwe before the Security Council.

"This gives the countries calling for action against Zimbabwe an opportunity to push the report to the Security Council and that is not a good omen for the country," Dzinotyiweyi said.

The UZ lecturer spoke as Britain's UN ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry on Friday told the Press that Tibaijuka's report "deserves to be brought to the attention of the council and the council will have to take note of its findings."

A lawyer from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group that has unsuccessfully battled in courts to halt the government exercise, Rangu Nyamurungira, welcomed the UN report because it sets the stage for Harare officials behind the clean-up exercise to face justice.

Nyamurungira said: "What the UN has said is what we have been saying but even more important, it sets the stage for the government to take action against all the people who during this operation caused the suffering to innocent families."

At least five people died during the operation, according to police figures, but independent sources say that more could have died as Zimbabweans in May woke up to government bulldozers tearing down their structures without due notice. - ZimOnline